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5" 3 



Cui natura,,De\is,reru:ni cui cog-niius ordo, 
Hoc Spinola ftatu cojifpiciendus erat 

lixpi-eflere viri faciein,fecl ping-ere mentcm 
Z^uxidis artifices , non valuere tnanus . 

Ilia viget Tcriptis : illic ruLiimia tractat: 
Huncc^iucunquccupis nofcere,fcripta leg-e . 

x, feenea !& tas de. 






Weltseele, komm, tins zu durcJidrlngen ! 
Dann mit dem Weltgeist seftst zit ringen, 

Wird unsrer Krdfte Hochberuf. 
Theilnehmend fiihren gute Geister, 
Gelinde leitend, hochste Meister, 
Zu dem, der alles schafft -und sckuf 

GOETHE : Eins und Alles. 




rights of l m ,,., :alhn a,,J of reproduction m 







[NOTF. Throughout this Table and the Index the abbreviation Sp. is 
used for Spinoza, except where it might be ambiguous^ 



Preliminary . xv 

Sp. s Works : original publications . 

Editions . .... xvii 

Translations . . xix 

Authorities for Sp. s life . 

Portraits of Sp. ... xxv | 

Early literature relating to Sp. XXV11 

English books 

Modern accounts of Sp. s philosophy 

Special monographs . . . 



Birth of Sp l 

The Jewish Settlement at Amsterdam 

Their leaders : Manasseh ben Israel 

Uriel da Costa 

State of Jewish education IO 

Sp. s training in youth : Van den Ende Il 

Story of Clara van den Ende *3 

. Difficulties with the synagogue 

Attempt on Sp. s life : excommunication 1 7 

Change of name : lawsuit with sisters 2O 

Changes of residence 

Friendship and correspondence with Simon de Vries 

Friendship with Oldenburg 2 5 



Correspondence as to publication of his works 26 

The Principles of Descartes Philosophy published . . . . 30 
The Tractatus Theologico-politicus published . . . .31 

Controversy, and prohibition of the book 33 

Invitation to Heidelberg declined 34 

French invasion of 1672 : Sp. s visit to Condd s quarters . . . 36 

Plan of publishing Ethics abandoned 38 

Death of Sp 39 

Publication of Opera Posthuma 40 

Sp. s manner of life 41 



Letters not strictly philosophical the subject of this chapter . . 44 

/ Sp. questioned by Blyenbergh on origin of evil 46 

\ His reply, and further correspondence 47 

Reason and Scripture 50 

Anthropomorphism of theology 53 

Close of the correspondence ... . . . 56 

Letter to Peter Balling on omens 56 

Anonymous correspondent on ghosts . . . . . 59 

Sp. on perfections of divine nature ....... 63 

Letter on an alchemical experiment 64 

Reply to Van Velthuysen s criticism on Tractatus Theologico- 
politicus 65 

Sp. s general view of religion . . . . . . . . . 69 

Later correspondence with Van Velthuysen as to publication . . 70 

Correspondence and acquaintance with Leibnitz 71 

With Tschirnhausen 73 

Letter from Albert Burgh on his conversion to Church of Rome . . 75 

Sp. s answer jj 



Part L Judaism and Neo-Platonism. 

Philosophy must renounce finality 80 

Ideas permanent, not systems 83 

Leading ideas of Sp. : uniformity (pantheism) 84 

Identity of body and mind (monism) 85 

Self-preserving effort (natural law) . . 86 


General view of sources of these ideas ...... 87 

Uniformity : the Essay on God and Man ...... 89 

Not Cartesian in metaphysics ........ 9 

Sp. s metaphysics developed from theology ...... 92 

Jewish theologico-philosophical authors ...... 93 

Maimonides ....... ..... 94 

Chasdai Creskas .......... 95 

Alleged influence of Kabbalah on Sp ........ 97 

Possible allusions to it in Sp. . . . 100 

Giordano Bruno and Avicebron ........ 102 

Points of resemblance in Bruno and Sp. . . . 104 

Part II. Descartes. 

Influence on Sp. most important in physics ...... 107 

Sp. s things immediately produced by God ..... 108 

Motion and Rest treated as things ....... 109 

Descartes axiom of conservation of quantity of motion . . .no 

His consequent errors . . . . 1 1 1 

Aim of his physical speculations ....... 112 

Sp. s criticism of Descartes ......... JI 4 

Derivation of principle of self-conservation from Descartes . .116 

Sp. s gradual divergence from Descartes in psychology . . . n8 



Sp. s treatise De Intellects Emendatione . .121 

Search for the Chief Good . 

Contrast with Descartes object 

The good to be aimed at 

Knowledge and its degrees .... .126 

The test of truth ..... 

Double use of idea by Sp ...... 

Reflective knowledge . 

Problems of method stated 

Fiction and error ...... 

Sp. s conception of truth ......... ! 39 

Sp. s most perfect being ... . . 141 

Doubt and imagination . .... 143 

Discipline of the reason J 45 

Theory of definition .... ... 146 

Sp. s definition includes explanation ....... T 47 

Eternal things 

Identified with infinite modes of Ethics . . . . . 152 





State of philosophical ideas and terms in Sp. s time . . .156 
Sp. s geometrical method . . . . . . . 157 

Definitions of Ethics, Part I . . . . . . .159 

Sp. s causa sui and conception of Cause ...... 160 

Substance ............ 162 

Attributes ............ 163 

Modes ............ 165 

Infinity of Attributes .......... 166 

Parallelism of Attributes ......... 168 

Difficulties of Sp. s theory ......... 171 

Implicit idealism of the system . . . . . . .175 

Kant s approximation . . . . . . . . . . 176 

Summary ............ 17% 

Sp. on infinity ........... xyo, 

On notions of time, measure, and number ..... 181 

Sp. s aids of the imagination not Kantian ...... 185 

Note on the Infinite Modes ........ 187 



The doubleness of experience ........ 189 

Subject and Object, Mind and Matter ...... 190 

Theories of relation between Mind and Matter ..... 192 

Sp. s account ........... IC; ^ 

Complexity of human mind ..... .... 195 

Doctrine of association ......... I0 ,6 

Confused knowledge and error ........ 198 

Universals ....... 2OO 

Degrees of knowledge ....... . 2 oi 

Sp. s determinism ......... 202 

No distinct faculties of mind ........ 205 

Will and judgment ...... 2O 5 

Automatism of body ....... 207 

Advantages of necessarianism according to Sp ..... 210 

No distinct theory of perception in Sp. ... 212 





Preface to Part 3 of Ethics . . . 214 
Self-preservation ... .... 216 

Sp. s use of conatus . . . . 218 

What is a thing t ... 219 

Self-preservation and desire . . . 221 

Self-preservation as incident to life . . . . 222 

Pleasure and pain . . 224 

Love, hatred, &c. . 226 

Extension of emotions by sympathy . . . 228 

Active emotions . ... 230 

The definitions of the emotions . 233 



Introduction to Part 4 of Ethics . ... 245 

Remarks on the argument from design ... . 246 

Perfection and imperfection, good and evil . . . 250 

Emotion controllable only by emoticn . . 252 

The life according to reason . . . . 253 

Agreement of Sp. with the Stoics . . . 255 

Development of ethical doctrine . . . 257 

Virtue as intelligence ... . . . 258 

Element of common-sense morality in Sp. . ... 260 

Society and law .261 

What things are useful . . . 262 

Enjoyment of life . 264 

Returning good for evil . . 265 

Some passions relatively good . 266 

The reasonable or free man . . . 268 

Sp. s appendix of maxims . 271 



The power of reason .278 

Criticism of Descartes physical theory of will . . 279 

Division of Part 5 of Ethics . . . 280 

The government of the passions . . 283 



The use of moral precepts 285 

The love of God 287 

* The eternity of the mind 288 

Aristotelian and Averroist doctrines of immortality : Gersonides . 289 

Sp. s argument 292 

Discussion of his meaning ........ 295 

The mind s knowledge under the form of eternity . . . . 296 

The * intellectual love of God 300 

Return to physical aspect : concurrent development of body and 

mind ............ 303 

Morality independent of eternity of mind . . . . . . 305 

Virtue its own reward , 306 

Conclusion of the Ethics 308 



Sp. as publicist belongs to English school 3 IO 

Relation to Hobbes ~ 12 

Theory of sovereignty as compared with Hobbes . . . -jjr 

Sovereignty never absolute ..... oi*- 

Special revelations not to hold against law 319 

Review of Tractatus Politicus ~ 2I 

Scientific treatment of subject , 2 - 

General ideas ....... , 21 - 

Natural right , 

The State and its power , 2 g 

Can the State do wrong ? 

Ideal of government . 

Ideal of special forms of government : Monarchy ... 333 
Aristocracy ....... 

Federal government 

Democracy ...... --,(, 

The treatise broken off 



~ Theology and philosophy . 
._- Sp. s personal position . 

- Criticism of theological doctrines in Ethics, Part i : necessity of ^ 

God s action 
Things could not have been otherwise . 

* * 3 I ^T 



s Deity and moral law .... ... 346 

Final causes . . 348 

God as conceived by Sp. . . ... 352 

The infinite understanding 353 

Personality .... ... 354 

Sp. s pantheism . . . . . . . . . 355 

Sp. on historical revelations ... .... 357 

The voice from Sinai 360 

Revelation in general .361 

Religion and morality . . 363 

Sp. on pre-eminence of Christ 365 

Sp. s letters to Oldenburg on the Resurrection 366 

Religion as guide of life for the unlearned 368 



Nature of Sp. s influence 373 

Early controversy in Netherlands 375 

Spinozistic heresies in the Reformed Church : van Hattem and 

Leenhof 376 

Cartesian opposition ; attitude of Leibnitz 379 

Slight notice by English philosophers . ..... , . . 381 

English theological criticism ... . 383 

French writers on Sp 386 

Voltaire ... 387 

Boulainvilliers 388 

Montesquieu s knowledge of Sp 389 

Lessing s vindication of Sp 390 

Conversation with Jacobi 391 

Goethe ... 394 

Later recogition of Sp. in Germany 397 

Post-Kantian philosophers ......... 397 

Study of Sp. in England : Coleridge 400 

Shelley s intended translation 403 

Later English criticism ......... 404 

Study of Sp. in France . . . 405 

Bicentenary commemoration in Holland 405 




The Life of Spinoza by Colerus 409 


Ordinance of July 19, 1674, condemning the * Tractatus Theologico- 

politicus 444 


1. Dutch originals of certain letters of Sp. ... . 44^ 

2. Unpublished letter of Sp. to Dr. Meyer (in V. Cousin s library) . 447 

Circular of the Spinoza Committee .... 45 l 


Table showing Sp. s position in the history of Philosophy 456 

INDEX .... 457 


Page 45, note i, the first essendi should be existcndi 


THE purpose of this book is to put before English readers an 
account, fairly complete in itself and on a fairly adequate 
scale, of the life and philosophy of Spinoza. It aims, in the 
first instance, at being understood by those who have not 
made a special study of the subject ; but I hope that it may 
also be not useless to some who already know Spinoza at first 
hand, and even to critical students of philosophy. In order 
to reconcile these objects as far as possible, I have thought it 
well to collect once for all in this introductory chapter a 
certain amount of critical and bibliographical matter, which 
the reader who is interested in it will thus find ready to his 
hand, while the less curious may with equal ease pass it over. 
I propose here, not to enter at large on the bibliography and 
literature of Spinoza, but to give sufficient indications to any 
one who desires to go further on his own account. This will 
involve some partial repetition of matters elsewhere touched 
upon in the course of the book. But I prefer repetition to 

First let me premise that a most useful, one may indeed 
say an indispensable, companion to anything like a critical 
study of Spinoza is Dr. A. van der Linde s Benedictus Spinoza : 
Bibliografie (the Hague, 1871). This is a classified catalogue 
of the literature of the subject, which, if not absolutely com 
plete, is as complete down to its date as the learning and 
industry of one man could in the nature of things make it. 
While I am mentioning the work of a Dutch scholar, I may 
at the same time gratefully acknowledge my personal obliga 
tions to several members of the Spinoza Memorial Committee 



in the Netherlands for help and information freely given on 
various points. Herein I am specially bound to Dr. Betz, the 
Secretary of the Committee, Dr. Campbell, of the Royal 
Library at the Hague, and Professor Land, of Leyden. 

What has to be said here may be distributed under the 
following heads : 

I. Editions and translations of Spinoza s works. 
II. Authorities for Spinoza s life. 

III. The early or controversial stage of Spinoza literature. 

VI. Modern writings on Spinoza s philosophy as a whole. 

V. Monographs and special discussions treating of parts 

(especially the De Deo et Homine} and particular 

aspects of Spinoza s work. 

Dr. van der Linde s work is referred to as Bibliogr. simply. 
It brings us down, as I have said, to 1871. Much more has 
appeared since that time, as to which I can only call attention 
to the more important of the publications with which I have 
become acquainted. In some few particulars I am able to 
supplement Dr. van der Linde s information as to writings of 
earlier date. 


These, in the original order of publication, are as follows : 

1. Renati des Cartes Principiorum Philosophise pars I & II, 
more geometrico demonstrate per Benedictum de Spinoza 
Amstelodamensem. Accesserunt ejusdem cogitata meta- 
physica, &c. Amsterdam, 1663. 

2. Tractatus Theologico-politicus, continens dissertationes 
aliquot, quibus ostenditur libertatem philosophandi non 
tantum salva pietate et reipublicae pace posse concedi : sed 
eandem nisi cum pace reipublicae ipsaque pietate tolli non 
posse, Hamburg (really Amsterdam), 1670. Some notes of 
Spinoza s own to this treatise came to light later. See Bruder s 
preface, and Ed. Bohmer : Ben. de Sp. Tractatus de Deo et 
Homine &c. atque Adnotationes ad Tractatum Theologico- 
politicum. Halle, 1852. 

3. B. d. S. Opera Posthuma. Amsterdam, 1677. The con 
tents are : 


Ethica ordine geometrico demonstrata. 

Tractatus politicus. 

Tractatus de intellectus emendatione. 

Epistolae doctorum quorundam virorum ad B. d. S. 

et auctoris responsiones. 
Compendium grammatices linguae hebrseae. 

4. (Tractatus de Iride.) Stelkonstige reeckening van 
den Regenboog. The Hague, 1687. (Bibliogr. no. 36.) 

This work was long lost sight of and supposed to have 
perished. It was recovered and reprinted by Dr. van Vloten 
in his Supplementum (see below). 

5. Letter of Spinoza to Dr. Lambert van Veldhuysen. 
1844. Published by Prof. Tydeman, and given in ed. Bruder 
as Ep. 75. (Bibliogr. no. 35.) 

6. Ad Benedicti de Spinoza opera quse supersunt omnia 
supplementum. Amsterdam, 1862. 

By Dr. J. van Vloten. Uniform with Bruder s ed. (see 
below), so as to make a supplementary volume to it. Contains 
Spinoza s early Essay on God and Man, the Treatise on the 
Rainbow, and some letters and parts of letters not before 

7. In 1705 two letters written in Dutch by Spinoza, and 
including a paragraph not given in the Opera Posthuma, ap 
peared in a periodical called Boekzaal der Geleerde Werrclt. 
They seem to have been forgotten till Prof. Land quite 
recently lighted upon them : see his paper reprinted from the 
proceedings of the Dutch Academy of Sciences, Over de 
eerste uitgaven der brieven van Spinoza/ Amsterdam, 1879; 
and Appendix C to this book. 

8. Letter of Spinoza to Dr. Meyer of Aug. 3, 1663. French 
translation given by Saisset, CEuvres de Spinoza, iii. 458. The 
original is printed for the first time in this book (Appendix C). 
This letter might conveniently be cited as Ep. xxix. a. 

Three collected editions of Spinoza s works have been 
published : by Paulus (Jena, 1802, 2 vols.), Gfrorer (Stuttgart, 
1830), and "Bruder (Leipzig, 1843-6, 3 vols.). Full titles and 
particulars in Bibliogr. 38, 39, 41. The edition by Paulus is 
still useful to the student, as all the authorities then known 
for the life of Spinoza are conveniently brought together in 

a 2 


the Collectanea at the end of vol. ii. Unfortunately the text 
is by no means free from misprints ; and more unfortunately 
this edition seems to have been used to print from in both 
Gfrorer s and Bruder s, and some serious errors, though not 
all, thus remain uncorrected. I have noted the following in 
the Ethics : 

Part i, Prop. 22 : Quicquid ex aliquo Dei attribute, &c. 
So Opp. Posth., as the sense requires. All the modern editions 
give alio. 

Part 3, Prop. 21, Demonst. : * Deinde quatenus res aliqua 
tristitia afficitur/ &c. Modern editions have re. 

Part 5, Prop. 33, Schol. : . . . nisi quod mens easdem 
has perfectiones . . . aeternas habuerit, &c. Modern editions 
(except Gfrorer) have metus. Errors in the original edition of 
the Opera Posthitma have likewise remained uncorrected. 
See Ed. Bohmer, Spinozana, in Fichte s Zeitschrift fur Philo 
sophic und philosophische Kritik, 1860, vol. xxxiii, p. 153. But 
as to two of the remarks there made, see ib. vol. xlii. 1863, 
p. 97, n. where they are retracted by the author. 

Gfrorer s edition has a Latin preface of considerable merit, 
in which the argument for determinism is put with a certain 
freshness of topics and instances. In this preface there is 
also a misprint or lapsus calami odd enough to deserve special 
notice. In the part relating to Spinoza s letters we read : 
Penultima a iuvene nobili Edmundo Burk [Alberto Burgh] 
conscripta est. 

Bruder s edition is the handiest and altogether best 
equipped of the three, and the most convenient for reference. 

Dr. Hugo Ginsberg has more lately undertaken a new 
edition, in which I have seen the Ethics, the Letters, and 
Tractatus Theologico-politicus. (Leipzig, 1875, &c.) A fourth 
volume, apparently completing the edition, is announced this 
year. The introductions contain much useful matter carefully 
brought together. The text professes to be an improvement 
on Bruder s ; but as regards the Ethics and Letters the 
editor s intention of collating the original text of the Opp. 
Posth. has not been thoroughly carried out by those entrusted 
with the work. All the errors above noted are repeated ; 
besides which the number of new misprints can only be called 


enormous. The additions to the Letters first published in 
Dr. van Vloten s Supplementum are also not fully given. 
See Mind, vol. ii. p. 273. 

As to translations : 

DutcJi. A version of the Principles of Descartes Philo 
sophy (Renatus des Cartes beginzelen der wysbegeerte, &c.) 
was published at Amsterdam in 1664. The translator, named 
only as P. B., is stated to have been Peter Balling, one of 
Spinoza s correspondents (Bibliogr. no. 2). The Tractatus 
Theologico-politicus was translated into Dutch as early as 1673, 
and again in 1694 (Bibliogr. nos. 17, 18); and the Opera 
Posthtima appeared in Dutch almost as soon as in Latin (De 
nagelate Schriften van B. d. S. &c. Bibliogr. 23). This last 
work is well and carefully executed. The purity of the 
language contrasts remarkably with the Latinisms which in 
fested the current writing of the time, and some errors in the 
Latin text of the Opp. Posth. are tacitly corrected. There do 
not seem to be any modern Dutch versions. 

English. There is no complete English translation of 
Spinoza, nor any trustworthy one of his most important 
philosophical works. The Tractatus Theologico-politicus was 
translated in 1689, and again (a reprint ?) in 1737. The trans 
lation of 1689 is, like the original, anonymous ; neither is 
Spinoza s name mentioned by the translator. So far as I 
have looked at it, the rendering is pretty accurate, but it has 
no great literary merit. Lastly, in 1862, and in a second 
edition, 1868, there appeared a version which was on the 
face of it anonymous, but was known to be the work of the 
late Dr. R. Willis, and afterwards acknowledged by him. 
The same writer published some years later a translation of 
the Ethics and Letters. (Benedict de Spinoza ; his L ife, Cor 
respondence, and Ethics. Triibner & Co., London, 1870.) Of 
this book Professor Flint has lately said, with perfect judgment 
and discretion, that it may be recommended to the merely 
English reader. I should be glad to imitate his reserve, but 
silence might be misunderstood. The fact is that Dr. Willis, 
with extensive reading, a fair knowledge of philosophy, and 
great interest in his subject, had not either scholarship adequate 
to his task, or that habit of an exact use of language which is 


almost as needful to the translator as knowledge of the original 
tongue. The result (though, for many reasons, it is painful to 
have to say it) is that this version is far too inaccurate to be 
of any serious use. Not only shades of meaning are missed, 
and Spinoza s terse Latin spread into loose paraphrase, but 
there are constant errors in the rendering of perfectly common 
Latin particles, idioms, and constructions. The same remarks 
apply to the translation of the Tractatus Theologico-politicus. 
There is a still later anonymous translation of the Ethics (New 
York and London, 1876). Unfortunately the writer looked 
upon Dr. Willis as an authority, and copied nearly all his 
mistakes. In 1854 there appeared a translation of the Trac 
tatus Politicus by W. Maccall (Bibliogr. no. 32, in Corrigenda), 
a small book in an apparently obscure series called The 
Cabinet of Reason. It is in the British Museum, but has 
escaped the libraries of both Oxford and Cambridge Uni 
versities. The translator speaks with enthusiasm of Spinoza ; 
why this particular work was chosen for translation does not 
plainly appear. 

It appears from a diary kept by Shelley s friend Williams 
at Pisa and Lerici in 1821-2, that Shelley not only planned 
but executed to some extent a new translation of the Trac 
tatus Theologico-politicus : to which Lord B. [Byron] has 
consented to put his name, and to give it greater currency, 
will write the life of that celebrated Jew to preface the work. 
This passage was first published in Mr. R. Garnett s article, 
Shelley s Last Days/ Fortnightly Review, June 1878 (vol. 
xxiii. N.S., p. 858). A fragment of the first chapter, written 
it would seem in England, and accidentally preserved, and a 
fac-simile of the MS., may be seen in Mr. C. S. Middleton s 
Shelley and his Writings (London 1858). See p. 403, below. 
No other trace of Shelley s design remains. 

The treatise De Intellectus Emendatione, the Principia 
Philosophic? and Cogitata Metaphysica, and the book De Deo 
et Homine, have never to my knowledge been done into 

French. The Tractattts Theologico-politicus was translated 
in 1678, and appeared under several false titles at once (La 
clef du sanctuaire . . . Reflexions curieuses d\m esprit desin- 


teresse . . . Traite des Ceremonies superstitieuses des Juifs. 
Bibliogr. nos. 10, 11, 12). More recently the principal works 
of Spinoza have been translated by E. Saisset ((Euvres de 
Spinoza. Paris, 1842 ; 2nd ed. 1861, 3 vols. : reprinted without 
alteration, 1872). The first volume is a critical introduction. 
The translation is faithful, but the Principles of Descartes 
Philosophy and a good many of the letters are omitted. The 
critical and bibliographical information has to some extent 
become obsolete since Dr. van Vloten s publication of new 
matter. Another version, intended to be complete, has been 
begun by M. J. G. Prat, and is still in progress ((Euvres com- 
pletes de B. de Spinoza. Premiere serie : Vie de Spinoza, 
par Lucas ; Vie de Spinoza, par Colerus ; Principes de 
la Philosophic de Descartes et Meditations metaphysiques. 
Paris, 1863. Deuxieme serie: Traite Theologico-politique, 
1872. Ethique, Premiere Partie, 1880). A version of the 
Tractatus Politicus, by the same hand, appeared separately in 
1860. In 1878 M. Paul Janet gave for the first time a French 
version of the De Deo et Homine, of which more presently. 

German. There have been several German translations 
of the Ethics and other works of Spinoza. It will suffice to 
mention here Auerbach s (last edition entitled B. de Spinoza s 
sdmmtliche Werke, Stuttgart, 1871, 2 vols.), and a yet more 
recent one in J. H. von Kirchmann s Philosophische Bib- 
liothek, Berlin, 1868-72, which since its completion is also to 
be had in a collected form. Auerbach s version contains the 
whole philosophical works of Spinoza, including in the last 
edition the essay De Deo et Homine, and is wonderfully close 
to the original. The preface and life of Spinoza prefixed to 
the first volume contain in a short compass nearly all the ex 
traneous information which the reader is likely to want, and 
form an excellent introduction to fuller study. 1 

Italian. The Tractatus Theologico-politicus has recently 
appeared in an Italian version, namely : 

Trattato Teologico-politico di Benedetto de Spinoza, &c. 

1 I may here mention that Auerbach s novel Spinoza : cin Denkerleben, is still 
practically inaccessible to English readers who do not know German. A French 
version appeared some time ago in the Revue Germanique, but has not been sepa 
rately published. There are two Dutch translations, the latest dated 1875 ; 
and a Spanish one by Gonzales Serrano (n,d.). 


(translating full title of original), tradotto dal testo latino per 
Carlo Sarchi. Milan, 1875. Pp. xlii and 368. Preface by 
way of dedication to S. Cesare Correnti. At p. xxxiii the 
translator says : Non solamente concorda lo Spinoza colla 
metafisica del Vico, di cui non fu mai incolpata la cattolica 
ortodossia, ma sono consentanei i suoi principii con quelli di 
S. Tommaso, del Dottore angelico, siccome se ne puo accertare 
chiunque voglia meditare le Quest, ii, iii, iv, v, e seguenti 
della Somma Tcologica! 

Spanish. Still more lately there has appeared the first 
instalment, containing the Tractatus Theologico-politicus, of a 
Spanish version of Spinoza s philosophical works : 

Obras filosoficas de Spinoza vertidas al castellano y pre- 
cedidas de una introduccion por Don Emilio Reus y Baha- 
monde, &c. Madrid, 1878, 8vo. pp. cxvi and 368. 


i. Colerus. First and chiefly we have the life of Spinoza 
by Johannes Colerus (Kohler), German minister of the 
Lutheran congregation at the Hague. This congregation, 
existing side by side with the Dutch Reformed Church in 
freedom and security much beyond any rights officially 
allowed to it, was to some extent under the protection ol 
German Lutheran princes ; and, for the convenience of Ger 
mans residing at the Hague in the service of the States or 
otherwise, there was a German minister as well as a Dutch 
one. This office was filled by Colerus from 1693 to 1707 
The usage of a bilingual ministry was kept up till 1832, when 
the last German pastor died. Colerus first published his life 
of Spinoza in Dutch, together with a controversial sermon 
against Spinozism (Amsterdam, 1705. Bibliogr. 88). This 
original edition is extremely rare. Only two copies are 
known, one of which is in the Royal Library at the Hague 
and the other at Halle (Bibliogr. p. vii). It was almost im 
mediately followed, and for all practical purposes supplanted, 
by a French version (La verite de la resurrection de Jesus 
Christ defendue contre B. de Spinoza et ses spectateurs [secta- 


teurs]. Avec la vie de ce fameux philosophe, tire*e, tant de ses 
propres Ecrits, que de la bouche de plusieurs personnes dignes 
de foi qui 1 ont connu. Par Jean Colerus, Ministre de 1 Eglise 
LutheVienne de la Haye. The Hague, 1706. Bibliogr. 90.) 
This French version of the life has been several times re 
printed ; it is to be found in Paulus edition of Spinoza, in 
Saisset s and Prat s translations, and at the end of Dr. Gins 
berg s edition of the Letters. An English translation of it 
appeared in the same year, which is reprinted at the end of 
this book (Appendix A), and a German one in 1723, remark 
able for a portrait of Spinoza, in the lettering of which he is 
described as characterem reprobationis in vultu gerens. 
There was a later German translation from the original 
Dutch, 1734 (Bibliogr. 91-93). Many details have been 
added or cleared up since, but Colerus remains the principal 
authority. What gives his witness a singular value is its 
freedom from all suspicion of designed panegyric. He detests 
the philosophy of Spinoza, but is too honest to slander his 
character as a man, or even to conceal his admiration for it. 

2. Opera Pvst/mmaand Supplementum. Some biographical 
information is given in the editors preface to the Opera 
Posthmna, and something may be gathered from various 
passages in Spinoza s correspondence, notably in the portions 
first made known by Dr. van Vloten, who has also given other 
documentary evidence bearing on Spinoza s life both in the 
Supplementum and in his Dutch work on Spinoza (see 

3. Leibnitz. A few personal recollections of Spinoza are 
preserved in Leibnitz s writings. They will be specially 
mentioned in their place in the biographical part (Paulus, 
Collectanea ; Foucher de Careil, Leibniz, Descartes, et Spinoza}. 

The remaining sources of information are of less weight. 

4. Lucas. Early in the eighteenth century, we cannot 
say when first, but it seems before 1712 at all events 
(see extract from Brit. Mus. MS. below), there became cur 
rent in MS. a biography of Spinoza, attributed in the preface 
to one Lucas, a physician of the Hague. It was often asso 
ciated, under the common title La vie et V esprit de Mr. 
Benoit de Spinosa, with a certain Traite des trois imposteurs, 


which has nothing to do with Spinoza, and is again distinct 
from the Latin book De tribns impostoribus, though it pre 
tends to be from a Latin original. In this form the life was 
printed at Amsterdam in 1719, in a publication called 
Nouvelles Litteraires, and also in a separate book. The book 
was almost immediately called in ; the life was reissued alone 
at Hamburg [?], 1735, and this edition also became very scarce 
(the British Museum has a copy). 1 Meanwhile the Count de 
Boulainvilliers, who possessed an early MS. copy, had worked 
it up with the life by Colerus into a not very coherent whole 
(La vie de Spinosa ecrite par M. Jean Colerus . . . augmentee 
de beaucoup de particularity tirees dime vie manuscrite de ce 
philosophe, faite par un de ses amis) in his book called a refu 
tation of Spinoza, but really a popular exposition, v/hich was 
published after the author s death (Brussels [?], 1731. Bibliogr. 
107, where the date is given as 1726 by the misprint of XXVI. 
for XXXI.). 

The additions in Boulainvilliers, and some passages of 
Lucas omitted by him (these from a MS. copy), are given in 
Paulus edition as footnotes to Colerus ; and Lucas is reprinted 
at large from ed. 1735 by M. Prat (he does not mention 
whence he obtained the use or a transcript of the book) in his 
CEuvres computes de B. de Spinoza, ire serie. The history of 
this work, and the connexion of the different forms in which 
it has existed, were first unravelled by Paulus (preface to 
vol. ii. of his edition). One could wish it were better worth 
so much trouble. It is the production of an ardent and 
undiscriminating panegyrist, confused in its narrative, and not 
always consistent with what is known from other quarters. 
As Auerbach justly says, Lucas enthusiasm prevents him 
from telling his story clearly or soberly. His unsupported 
evidence is, in my opinion, worth very little, and at best we 
can only use him as a witness auxiliary and subordinate to 
Colerus. The authorship of this biography has been called in 
doubt on the ground that Lucas (of whom, by the way, very 
little seems to be known, save that he was the author of a 

1 At the foot of p. 47 is the catchword L ESPRIT, belonging to the title 
L Esprit de M. de Spinosa, which followed on p. 49 in the original issue of 
1719, p. 48 being blank, 


satirical work called Les Quintessences} was not capable of it 
(Prosper Marchand, Diet. Historique, article Impostoribus ). 
But the question is not worth discussing. 

5. Bayle, Kortholt, &c. The remaining evidences may be 
taken in the lump. A few touches are contributed by the 
article on Spinoza in Bayle s Dictionary (reprinted as appendix 
to Dr. Ginsberg s edition of the Tractatus Theologico-politicus], 
which however is very loose in its facts, and by a notice 
prefixed by Sebastian Kortholt to a second edition of his 
father s book De tribus impostoribus magnis (Hamburg, 1700. 
Bibliogr. 82 : the passages about Spinoza are given in Paulus 
Collectanea}. The three great impostors of the last-named 
book are Lord Herbert of Cherbury, Hobbes, and Spinoza. 
What is said of Spinoza personally in the preface is remark 
able as the testimony of a very unwilling witness to the sim 
plicity and blamelessness of his life. Colerus had Bayle and 
Kortholt before him when he wrote his life of Spinoza. Then 
we have a little book by one Stoupe, 1 a Swiss officer in the 
French service, La religion des hollandois, 1673 (Bibliogr. 63, 
where the passages in question are given), containing a rather 
confused account of Spinoza, who was then living, and of the 
Tractatus Theologico-politicus. The Dutch theologians are 
accused of lukewarmness, or worse, for not coming forward 
more strongly to refute Spinoza ; this piece of evangelical 
zeal is not unlikely, as Paulus suggests, to have had a political 
motive. Dutch writers presently replied to these charges. 
One of them, described as Jean Brun, Ministre du Roy des 
Armies, expresses astonishment at Stoupe s zeal against 
Spinoza ; for Stoupe, he says, himself sought Spinoza s ac 
quaintance, and made much of him on the occasion of his 
visit to Conde s head-quarters at Utrecht (Bibliogr. 67). In 
1847 there appeared in the Berlin Allgemeine Zeitschrift filr 
Geschichte some notes of travel made in 1703 by Gottlieb 
Stolle, afterwards a professor at Jena (Bibliogr. 86). At 
Amsterdam he picked up some gossip about Spinoza from an 
old man who professed to have known him well. This com 
munication is of no importance, and in part manifestly absurd. 

1 The name is variously spelt. Dr. van Vloten, in his recent address on the 
unveiling of the Spinoza statue (see p. xxxvi. below), prints it Stoppa. 


But Stolle likewise made the acquaintance of Rieuwerts 
(or Riewerts, as the name appears on the title-page of the 
Principia Philosophi&\ the publisher of the Opp. Posth., and 
got from him some interesting particulars ; he also visited 
Bayle, and spoke with him of Spinoza. See Ginsberg s In 
troduction to his edition of the Ethics, pp. 20-25, where these 
passages are reprinted. 

Some other miscellaneous publications of the eighteenth 
century contain statements or allusions touching Spinoza s 
life ; but, so far as I know, these are either copied from the 
authorities already mentioned, or were idle tales contradicted 
by the known facts (e.g. Bibliogr. 98, no). 

I may here say a word of the portraits of Spinoza. Three 
only that I know of (if so many) may be reasonably considered 
authentic : 

1. Engraving found in some copies of the Opp. Posth. It 
is not described as rare in Bibliogr., but is difficult to meet 
with in this country. After searching without result in public 
libraries, we found an example in the copy of the Opp. Posth. 
belonging to the London Institution, of which the frontispiece 
to this book is a reproduction. 

2. Miniature belonging to the late Queen of the Nether 
lands, in the Summer Palace at the Hague. A chromo- 
lithographic copy is given as frontispiece to Schaarschmidt s 
edition of De Deo et Nomine. 

3. Painting formerly belonging to Professor Paulus, the 
editor of Spinoza, since to Dr. van Vloten, and by him pre 
sented to the Town Museum at the Hague. Comparison of 
the three suggests that No. i may be to some extent idealised. 
On the other hand, No. i is by far the most artistic and lifelike. 
Cf. Ed. Bohmer, Spinozana, i. p. 144, ii. pp. 86, 87 (in Zeitschr. 

fur Philosophic und philosophised Kritik, Halle, vol. xxxvi. 
1860, vol. xlii. I863). 1 

1 No. i also occurs without the inscription, but in that state is very rare. No. 
2 was bought at Ley den in 1866, with some sort of tradition of Spinoza being the 
person represented. Opinions differ as to the value to be attached to it. No. 3 
has been engraved as frontispiece to Paulus edition of Spinoza. Recent inspection 
of the original has led me to suspect that it may be only a fancy picture by some 
painter who had no. i before him : if this were so, it would of course be of no 



Andala. The following book, not without curiosity for 
the elaborate comparison of Spinoza s philosophy with Stoi 
cism, is not in Bibliogr. : 

Apologia | pro | vera . & saniore | philosophia | quatuor 
partibus comprehensa, | auctore | Ruardo Andala, | Phil, et 
SS. Theol. Doctore & Professore | ordinario. | Franequerae, | 
Ex Officina Wibii Bleck, Bibliopolae | MDCCXIX. 4 to. 
pp. 3 unnumbered (title-page and preface) and 210. 

Parts I. and II. relate to Spinoza ; the pages of Part I. 
are headed : Philosophia R. Descartes | Spinosismo opposita. 
Those of Part II. : Spinosus Stoicismus fons Spinosismi et 
puritas philosophise R. Descartes. The Stoic philosophy is 
compared with Spinoza s in parallel columns through a series 
of numbered heads. 

For my acquaintance with this book (as for the references 
to some of the others hereafter mentioned) I am indebted to 
the kindness of Mr. I. Bywater, of Exeter College, Oxford, 
the owner of the copy I have seen. It is not in the British 
Museum, the Bodleian, or the Cambridge University library. 
The full title of the same author s book described in 
Bibliogr. 303 is : 

Cartesius | verus Spinozismi | eversor, et | physicae ex- 
perimentalis | architectus, | auctore | Ruardo Andala, | Phil, 
et SS. Theol. Doctore et Professore | ordinario. | Franequerae | 
Ex officina Wibii Bleck, Bibliopolse, MDCCIX. 4to. 

Pp. 1-282, headed : Cartesius verus Spinozismi eversor. 
New title : Dissertatio physica | qua repraesentatur | Car 
tesius | physicae experimentalis architectus, | ventilata publice 
A.D. 21. Jun. MDCCXIX. | Defendente | Georgio Szobos- 
zlai, | Transylvano-Hungaro. 

Pp. i -44, headed : Cartesius physicae experimentalis ar 

The same author s Dissertationum philosophicarum heptas 
(Franeq. MDCCXI) contains at least one incidental attack 
on Spinoza, of whom it is said, among other amenities, in the 


fifth dissertation, De voluntatis libertate (p. 190) : Hsec et alia 
ostendunt Atheum avTOKardicpnov? 

Bontekoe. Dr. Cornelius Bontekoe s unexecuted intention 
of refuting Spinoza is noticed in the text further on (ch. xii.). 

Boulainvilliers. Spinoza s name was strangely mixed up, 
as above mentioned, with a certain Traite des trois imposteurs 
which had a half-occult circulation in MS. in France and the 
Low Countries ; a performance, for the rest, of no particular 
merit, and itself a clumsy imposture as regards its pretended 
origin and date. Later in the eighteenth century it was 
printed, but without the use of Spinoza s name in any way. 
See for detailed bibliography of this work Ed. Bohmer, Spino- 
zana, 1860 (iibi suprri), pp. 156 sqq. I now add my contribu 
tion for what it may be worth. In an eighteenth century 
MS. in the British Museum (Add. 12064) there occurs, after 
a copy of this treatise, a note which maybe worth transcribing. 
It is as follows (I modernize the spelling and accents, and 
correct one or two words) : 

1 J ai vu une copie MS. de 1 ouvrage de Monsieur le comte 
de Boullainvilliers touchant la doctrine de Spinoza faite sur 
1 original de 1 auteur au mois d aout 1712, in-4to. Ce MS. 
contient la Metaphysique et 1 Ethique de Spinoza, son Esprit 
[i.e. the Traite des trois imposteurs] et sa vie, comme il [sic] 
porte le titre. II commence par la vie de Spinoza, qui est fort 
abregee, et dont le plus essentiel et remarquable a ete ajoute 
a la vie de Spinoza ecrite par Colerus, et a ete imprime depuis 
peu dans le livre de la Refutation des erreurs de Benoit 
Spinoza, a Bruxelles chez Francois Foppens en 1731, in-8vo, 
comme porte le titre, mais veritablement en Hollande. 
[Bibliogr. 107, and see above.] 

1 Apres la vie de Spinoza est place 1 ouvrage de Monsieur 
Boullainvilliers avec ce titre : 

Essai de Metaphysique dans les Principes de B . . . de 
Sp . . . compose par M.L.C.D.C.D.B., c est-a-dire 

II y precede un avertissement qui fait la preface de 
I imprime dans la Refutation de Spinoza, mais au commence 
ment, ou il est dit : J entreprends de faire parler dans les trois 
traites suivans on a retranche le mot trois parce qu on 
n a pas ose d imprimer 1 Esprit de Spinoza, qui fait le troisieme 


traite. . . . Le troisieme traite est intitule : L Esprit de Mon 
sieur de Spinoza, c est-a-dire ce que croit la plus saine partie 
du monde. 

It would be rash to infer anything from this memorandum 
as to the authorship of the Traite des trois imposteurs, which 
is indeed quite beneath Boulainvilliers ability, particularly as 
shown in the so-called Refutation, with which it was associated 
in the MS. of 1712 seen by the annotator. But it does 
appear to connect Boulainvilliers with the affixing of Spinoza s 
name to the work. It is not surprising that the writer of the 
MS. now cited did not know (as he obviously did not) that it 
had been printed in 1719. The copie MS. mentioned by 
him would seem to be that in the library of the Arsenal at 
Paris, described ex relatione by Bohmer, Spinozana, ii. p. 157. 
The British Museum possesses another MS. copy of the 
Traite, which, however, does not offer any peculiar feature. 

In Paris MSS. have apparently been searched for by 
Bohmer. One would think, however, there must yet be 
several unexamined copies in French libraries (cf. Spinozana, 
ii. 89, 90). 

Langenhert. Arnoldi Geulincx | compendium physicae | 
illustratum | a | Casparo Langenhert. | | Franequerae, | Ex 
Officina Leonardi Strick Bibliopolse | Anno MDCLXXXVIII. 

At p. 116: Quomodo autem Philosophi nonnulli atque 
Theologi, liberrimum hoc arbitrium cum Deo non competere 
vaferrimo Spinosse (qui libertatem hanc, ut suo tempore 
dante Deo demonstrabimus, ne quidem per somnium novit) 
largiantur, ex ejus sese liberent tricis, id ego me ignorare 

Langenhert s intention, like Dr. Bontekoe s, appears to 
have remained unperformed. 

Rijcke. Theodori Ryckii, etc. ad diversos epistolae 
ineditas. Ed. G. D. J. Schotel. Hagae Comitum, 1843. 

At p. 6, in letter to Adrian Blyenburg, Aug. 14, 1675 : 

Inter nos rumor est auctorem Tractaius Theologico-politici 
in promptu habere librum de Deo et Mente multo priore isto 

Compare Spinoza s Ep. 19, of about the same date. 

RysselQ. J. a) gives a short account of Spinoza and 


his philosophy in his edition of Vossius de philosophorum 
sectis, Lips. 1690, 4to. p. 203. 

Witte (Henning). Diarium biographicum, in quo scrip- 
tores seculi post natum Christum xvii. prsecipui . . . concise 
descripti magno adducuntur numero. Gedani [Danzig] 1688, 
4to. At sig. Nnnn, fo. 4, verso (the book is unpaged) sub ann. 
1677, is the name of Spinoza and a list of his works: the 
exact date of his death is added in a supplement. 

An anti-Spinozist bibliography was attempted as early 
as 1725 by Jon. Albert Fabricius in his wordily entitled book : 

Delectus argumentorum et syllabus scriptorum qui veri- 
tatem religionis Christianae adversus atheos, Epicureos, Deistas 
seu naturalistas, idololatras, Judaeos et Muhammedanos lu- 
cubrationibus suis asseruerunt. Hamburg 1725, 4to. 

Cap. XIII., p. 355: 

Adversus Spinosam et alios mundum aeternum confin- 

At p. 357 is a list of writers against Spinoza : some names 
of authors and books are given which I do not find in 
Bibliogr. Besides Brampton Gurdon (as to whom see below 
among English writers) the following are referred to, if re 
ference it can be called. 

Gerardus de Vries in exercitationibus rationalibus de Deo. 1 

D. Jo. Jachimi 2 Weidneri Homo Spinosae religionem exer- 
cens : qu. whether a separate work from Numen Spinozse in 
refutationem erroris atheistici, &c. (Bibliogr. 394), the title 
of which is inaccurately cited by Fabricius. 

Petrus van Mastricht in Gangraena. (Novitatum Car- 
tesianarum Gangraena, s. Theologia Cartesiana detecta. 
Amstelod. 1677. In University Libraries of Cambridge and 
Leyden, and in the Bodleian : not in Brit. Mus. The author 
was Professor of Theology at Utrecht, 1677-1706). The 

1 Gerardi de Vries exercitationes rationales de Deo, divinisque perfectionibus, 
necnon philosophemata miscellanea, &c. Trajecti ad Rhenum, MDCXCV, 410. 
At p. 34 is a pious wish for unhappy persons who may be istis Spinis suffocati : 
at p. 43 the Ethics are named : * consonant haec per omnia eis, quce occurrunt in 
ipso limine profanoe Ethicae ordine geometrico demonstrate. The book is mainly 
anti-Cartesian. The author was a Professor at Utrecht. 

2 Read Jo. Joachimi. The D. apparently stands for Domini. 



full title is : Novitatum Cartesianarum Gangrana, nobiliores 
plerasque corporis theologici partes arrodens & exedens 
Seu theologia Cartesiana detecta auctore Petrovan Mastricht 
S. literarum in ecclesia & academia Duisburgensi doctors 
& professore. Prostant Amstelodami : apud Janssonio- 
Waesbergios. Anno MDCLXXVII. 

_ In cap. 3, De Philosophia non ancilla Theologize occurs 
criticism of the Tractatus Theologico-politicus. Spinoza is 
described as Atheus quidem, sed Cartesianus tamen on p 
35, and on p. 44 we find an early instance, perhaps the earliest 
of a pun wbch afterwards became current (see citations from 
Andala and De Vries above) : Spinosam Spinos* argutiam 
prolixius obtundere visum. Van Mastricht shared the mis 
take, not uncommon at the time, of attributing to Spinoza the 
anonymous book Philosophia Scripture interpres, really by 

\ Jf z," 6 " 1 (6t f rte etkm ! P se idem > aliis HoJ 
verbis, habet Exercitator paradoxus de Philos. Interp. Script: 

TI, , der Waeyen) in Summa 

Theology (Pars Prior, Franeq. 1689). 

_ The following English works of the late seventeenth and 
eighteenth century, more or less concerned with Spinoza are 
not in Bibliogr. 

Cudworth (Ralph, D.D.).-True Intellectual System of 
Ve th is the same 

n ed nr6 f 
in ed. pr. 1678, fo., and ed. 1743, 2 vols. 4 to. 

_As for that late theological politician, who, writing 
against miracles, denies as well those of the former [by 
natural power of angels &c.] as of this latter [supernatural] 
kmd . we find his d.scourse every way so weak, ground 
less, and incons,derable, that we could not think it here to 
deserve a confutation. 

KW-Creation. A philosophical poem. In seven 
books. By Sir Richard Blackmore, Knt M.D.,and Fellow ofTe 
Physicians in London. London : MDCCXII. Svo. 

jument were then in fashion, and Spinoza is here in no 
my than Hildebrand s, of whom our author speaks thus (p. 3) 
i, HUdebrandus (Hellebrandum suo nomine dixeris ). 




Also to be found in the collection of English Poets edited by 
Johnson. It is a didactic poem on natural theology ; in the 
course of which, as the author announces (Preface, p. xviii.) 
the modern atheists, Vaninus, Hobbs, and Spinosa are 
spoken of in their turn. Again he says in the Preface 
(p. xlv) : 

Will they [the irreligious gentlemen of the age] derive 
their certainty from Spinosa ? Can such an obscure, perplext, 
unintelligible Author create such Certainty, as leaves no Doubt 
or Distrust ? If he is indeed to be understood, what does he 
alledge more than the ancient Fatalists have done, that should 
amount to Demonstration ? 

The confutation of Spinoza in the body of the work is in 
Book 3, v. 742. It is not without curiosity as a specimen of 
what then passed muster in England as philosophy and 

poetry : 

Spinosa next, to hide his black design, 

And to his Side th unwary to incline, 

For Heav n his Ensigns treacherous displays, 

Declares for God, while he that God betrays : 

For whom he s pleas d such Evidence to bring, 

As saves the Name, while it subverts the Thing. 

Now hear his labour d Scheme of impious Use ; 
No Substance can another e er produce. 
Substance no Limit, no Confinement knows, 
And its Existence from its Nature flows. 
The Substance of the Universe is one, 
Which is the Self-existent God alone. 

The Spheres of Ether t which the World enclose, 
And all th Apartments, which the Whole compose ; 
The lucid Orbs, the Earth, the Air, the Main, 
With every different Being they contain, 
Are one prodigious Aggregated God, 
Of whom each Sand is part, each Stone and Clod. 
Supream Perfections in each Insect shine, 
Each Shrub is Sacred, and each Weed Divine. 

Sages, no longer Egypt s Sons despise, 

For their cheap Gods, and Savoury Deities ! 

No more their course l Divinities revile ! 

To Leeks, to Onions, to the Crocodile, 

You might your humble Adorations pay, 

Were you not Gods your selves, as well as they. 

1 Sic. 


As much you pull Religion s altars down, 
By owning all Things God, as owning none. 
For should all Beings be alike Divine, 
Of Worship if an Object you assign, 
God to himself must Veneration shew, 
Must be the Idol and the Vot ry too ; 
And their assertions are alike absurd, 
Who own no God, or none to be ador d. 

Colliber. An Impartial Enquiry into the Existence and 
Nature of God &c. The third edition. By Samuel Colliber. 
London, 1735. 8vo, pp. 276. Spinoza is several times cited 
in order to be contradicted ; in some places the words of the 
original are given. 

Brampton Gurdon. A Defence of Natural and Revealed 
Religion : Being a collection of the sermons preached at the 
lecture founded by the Honourable Robert Boyle, Esq. ; (from 
the year 1691 to the year 1732). 3 vols. Lond. 1739, fo. 

At p. 277. The Pretended Difficulties in Natural or 
Reveal d Religion no Excuse for Infidelity. Sixteen Ser 
mons preached in the church of Saint Mary le Bow, London ; 
in the years 1721 and 1722. At the lecture founded by the 
Honourable Robert Boyle, Esq. By Brampton Gurdon, A.M. 
Chaplain to the Right Honourable Thomas Earl of Maccles- 
field, Lord High Chancellour of Great Britain. 

Criticism of Spinoza occurs at pp. 297, 299-308, 329-30, 
345, 358, 363-5- 

Ramsay. The philosophical | principles | of | natural and 
revealed | religion. | Unfolded | in | a geometrical order | by the 
Chevalier Ramsay | author of the travels of Cyrus. | Glas 
gow : | printed and sold by Robert Foulis. [ MDCCXLVIII. 
2 vols. 4to. Vol. I. (pp. viii and 541) contains frequent cri 
ticism on Spinoza. At p. 497: 

Appendix \ to the | foregoing work : | containing | a | refuta 
tion | of the first book of | Spinosa s Ethics ; | by which | the whole 
structure | is undermined. At pp. 539-541 : 

From all this it appears that Spinosa s monstrous system 
is composed of Cabbalism, Cartesianism, and Predestinarian- 
ism differently conjoined and interwoven. . . . With regard 
to moral actions, the Spinosian errors are not so much abuses, 




i natural and necessary consequences of the Predestinarian 
scheme. If this be so, then it is possible that Spinosa did 
not think himself an Atheist. . . . 

< Those who have undertaken the confutation of this philo 
sopher have not as yet succeeded. All that Bayle says 
against Spinosa is unworthy of our notice. That ingenious 
author scarce ever dipt beyond the surface of things. . . . 

/ We have endeavoured to disclose the mysterious jargon of 
this dark system, represent it in its true light, and confute it in 
two different manners, by demonstrating truths diametrically 
opposite to its principles, and by proving that all its demonstra 
tions are sophistical. We conclude with this sole remark, 
that till Predestinarian and Cartesian principles be ban 
ished from the Christian schools, Spinosism can never be 
solidly confuted. 

Vol. ii. (pp. 462) is on ancient religions and mythology, 
and appears to contain no further mention of Spinoza. 

Dugald Stewart. In the First Preliminary Dissertation of 
the Encyclopedia Britannica (vol. i, p. 144 in 7 tn ed -) a few 
pages are given to Spinoza. They are of no value at the pre 
sent day. 

Gibbon. In the Critical Observations on the Sixth Book of-\ 
the jEncid (Misc. Works, ii. 5 10), Gibbon speaks of the prin 
ciples which the impious Spinoza revived rather than invented. 
The context sufficiently shows that the impious Spinoza was 
for Gibbon merely a stick to beat Warburton with. 

One other book may be noticed under this head, merely 
to save trouble to other students of Spinoza literature who 
may come across it. It is: APETH-AOriA, or An En 
quiry into the Original of moral Virtue ; wherein the false 
Notions of Machiavel, Hobbes, Spinoza, and Mr. Bayle, as 
they are collected and digested by the Author of the Fable of 
the Bees, are examined and confuted, and the eternal and un 
alterable Nature and Obligation of moral Virtue is stated and 
vindicated. To which is prefixed a prefatory Introduction, in 
a Letter to that Author. By Alexander Innes, D.D., &c. 
Westminster, MDCCXXVIIL, Svo., pp. xlii and 333. 

There is not a word in the body of the book about Spinoza, 
nor yet about Hobbes and Bayle. Machiaveili is once cited 


as an authority. The argument against Mandeville, who is 
the sole object of attack, proceeds on hedonistic principles, 
and there is even an attempt at what late writers have called 
a hedonic calculus (p. 199), so that I fancy the work may be 
of some interest for the history of utilitarianism. 

IV. Not as a matter of bibliography, but for the reader s 
general convenience, I shall here mention some of the modern 
accounts of Spinoza. 

It will be generally admitted, I believe, by competent 
persons that Kuno Fischer s (Geschichte dcr neueren Philoso 
phic, vol. i. part 2) is on the whole the fullest and best. The 
author has the merit, too rare in philosophical literature, of 
combining thorough analysis with clear exposition and an 
admirable style. 

In English the best general view is still given by Mr. 
Froude s essay reprinted from the Westminster Review in 
Short Studies on Great Stibjects. The chapter on Spinoza in 
Lewes History of Philosophy is good for the biographical 
part ; as to the philosophy, it excites an interest which it 
hardly does enough to satisfy. There is a good article in 
Blunt s Dictionary of Sects, Heresies, &c. (London, 1874), s. v. 
Spinoza, showing careful study and great familiarity with 
I the Ethics ; but it is of necessity much condensed. Com- 
I pare * Spinozism in the same editor s Diet, of Doctrinal and 
Historical Theology. London, 1871. 

Hallam s account must be mentioned as occurring in a 

i work classical in its own line ( Literature of Europe, part iv. 

I ch. iii., ss. 71-96, ch. iv. ss. 9-12). It is painstaking and 

perhaps as free from material inaccuracy as a mere abstract 

I can be. A more popular one, candid and careful as far as it 

I goes, is in Milman s History of the Jews/ vol. iii. p. 374, sqq. 

(3rded. 1863). 

Dr. van Vloten s Benedictus de Spinoza naar Lev en en 
Werken (2nd ed., Schiedam, 1871) is a work more addressed 
to non-philosophical readers than Kuno Fischer s, but his 
account is thus far, unfortunately, accessible only to those 
who can read Dutch. Spinoza s doctrines are stated, as far 
as possible, in his own language, so that the book has a value 


independent of Dr. van Vloten s interpretation, which on 
many points is open to discussion. I am bound to say, how 
ever (the more so as divers philosophers by profession, both 
in the Netherlands and in Germany, have unduly slighted his 
work), that in the main I agree with his results. 1 

The most determined adversary of Dr, van Vloten is Dr. 
Spruyt, now a professor of philosophy at Amsterdam (Van 
Vloten s Benedictus de Spinoza beoordeeld door C. B. 
Spruyt. Utrecht, 1876. 8vo., pp. xi. and 100). His work, 
though short, has three distinct aims : vindication of Descartes, 
especially as to his services to physical science ; criticism of 
Dr. van Vloten s treatment of Spinoza ; and criticism of 
Spinoza himself. As to the first topic, I do not know that 
Dr. van Vloten would really have much to say to the contrary, 
and I certainly have nothing. As to the second, Dr. van 
Vloten is well able to take care of himself, and moreover Mr. 
Lotsy has come to support him. But it is curious that, not 
withstanding Dr. Spruyt s vehement and supercilious criticism 
of most parts of Dr, van Vloten s work, his own remarks on 
Spinozism amount to a virtual admission that Dr. van Vloten s 
view of the general effect and tendency of Spinoza s philo 
sophy is correct. The real difference is on the question how 
far Spinoza was himself aware of its tendency, and a question 
of this kind is seldom so free from doubt as to justify one in 
treating with absolute contempt an opinion different from 
one s own. As to Spinoza himself, there is only one thing to 
be said of Dr. Spruyt s criticism. Haeret in cortice. It is the 
kind of criticism that naturally occurs to a reader instructed 
in modern philosophy who looks into Spinoza without any 
serious endeavour to discover what was really in his mind. 
It makes verbal points effectively, but adds no more to our 
understanding of Spinoza than the abundant criticism of the j 
same kind that has gone before it. One point of substance is 
well seen, namely, that Spinoza s philosophy is not the flawless 
miracle of consistency imagined by many writers. But Dr. 

1 On the unveiling of the statue of Spinoza at the Hague on September 14, 
1880, Dr. van Vloten delivered an address, which is printed in the form of a 
pamphlet (Spinoza de blijde boodschapper der mondige menschheid. s Graven- 
hage, 1880). 

I NT ROD UCTION. xxx vii 

Spruyt runs into the other extreme, and seems to think no 
inconsistency too gross to ascribe to him. Dr. Spruyt is espe 
cially scandalised at Spinoza s, theory of politics (which, 
according to him, is quite irreconcilable with the Ethics), and 
has devised for it the neat phrase * brutale machtsvergoding ; 
which has, I believe, been a source of great comfort to anti- 
Spinozistic clergymen and journalists. 

In the last year or two there have appeared Herr Theodor 
Camerer s Die Lehre Spinoza s (Stuttgart, 1877), and Mr. 
Lotsy s Spinoza s Wijsbegeerte (Amsterdam, 1878). Herr 
Camerer s book is a minute analysis of the philosophy of the 
Ethics, which has the merit of never shirking a difficulty, 
though the difficulties are sometimes exaggerated. Those 
who know Spinoza already may find it suggestive ; and for 
such only it appears to be written. The total absence of his 
torical criticism is a rather serious defect. Some things in 
Spinoza are naturally obscure if one does not look back at 
least as far as Descartes. Mr. Lotsy takes much the same line 
as Dr. van Vloten, but even more emphatically. The book 
is vigorous, clear-headed, and often original in treatment. It 
is noticed more at length in a review contributed by myself 
to Mind (July 1879, P- 43 J )- 

Then there is a class of writings which may be described 
as mixed exposition and criticism, with criticism predominat 
ing. Among these, which are very numerous, a chief place is 
held by Trendelenburg s essays, Ueber Spinoza s Grund- 
gedanken und dessen Erfolg and Ueber die anfgefundenen 
Ergdnznngen zu Spinoza s Werken und deren Ertrag filr 
Spinoza s Leben und Lehre (Historische Beitrdge ziir Philoso- 
phie, vol. ii. p. 31, and vol. iii. p. 277). The later of the two 
essays is occasioned by the publication of De Deo et Homine, 
but is by no means confined to points immediately raised 

H. C. W. Sigwart s Der Spinozismus historisch und philo- 
sophisch erlautert, &c., Tubingen, 1839 (Bibliogr. 310), has 
suffered the fate of many good books in being assimilated by 
later ones, till there is little actual need to consult it in its 
original form. But a good and valuable book it remains. 

An elaborate criticism is given in the introductory volume 


to Saisset s translation. It is avowedly polemical, and belongs 
to a school of philosophy which may now happily be consi 
dered pretty well extinct even in its own country, where till 
quite lately it sat in high places. But Saisset is an able and 
fair combatant, and stands, I think, at or near the head of the 
distinctly adverse writers on Spinoza. In English it has not 
been my fortune to meet with anything of the kind (save Prof. 
Flint s work mentioned below) showing competent acquaint 
ance with the subject. 

One or two recent works are on the line between general 
and special monographs. I will name here : 

Busolt (Dr. Georg) : Die Grundziige der Erkenntnisz- 
Theorie und Metaphysik Spinoza s dargestellt, erlautert und 
gewurdigt. Von der Universitat zu Konigsberg gekronte 
Preisschrift. Berlin, 1875. 

Turbiglio (Sebastiano) : Benedetto Spinoza e le trasforma- 
zioni del suo pensiero. Libri tre. Rome, 1874. 

Signor Turbiglio seems to hold that Spinoza never fully 
developed his own thought ; he distinguishes between lo 
Spinoza reale, and lo Spinoza fenomenico. Of Spinoza s 
influence he says, ad fin, : In qualunque punto dell eta 
moderna voi interroghiate il pensiero filosofico, vi si revela la 
presenza dello Spinoza. 

Last, not least, come M. Kenan s commemorative address 
(Spinoza, Discours prononce a la Haye le 21 fevrier 1877, a 
1 occasion du 2OO e anniversaire de samort The Hague, 1877), 
a masterpiece in its kind ; and Professor Land s lecture Ter 
Gedachtenis van Spinoza (Leyden, 1877), which, with its 
illustrative notes, gives in a small compass an accurate his 
torical and critical survey of Spinoza s philosophy, and 
extracts from many authorities in the originals. I may here 
note that any one who wishes to make a special study of 
Spinoza will find it amply worth his* while to be able to read 

The only formal commentary on Spinoza s works which I 
know of is J. H. von Kirchmann s. It has appeared in parts 
in the Philosophische Bibliothek, and is now to be had as a 
book complete in itself, or together with the translation (sub 
tit, Benedict von Spinoza s sammtliche philosophische Werke 


iibersetzt und erlautert von J. H. v. Kirchmann und C. 

It is hardly needful to add that the general histories of 
philosophy, such as Erdmann s and Ueberweg s, may also be 
usefully consulted. 

V. Among special monographs and discussions those on 
the treatise De Deo et Homine form a class apart. 

Avenarius (Dr. Richard) : Ueber die beiden ersten Phasen 
des Spinozischen Pantheismus, &c. Leipzig, 1868 (Bibliogr. 

Schaarschmidt (Prof. C.) : Benedicti de Spinoza korte Ver- 
handelingvan God, deMensch en deszelfs Welstand, tractatuli 
deperditi de Deo et homine ejusque felicitate versio Belgica. 
Ad antiquissimi codicis fidem edidit et praefatus est de Spi- 
nozae philosophiae fontibus Car. Schaarschmidt. Amstelodami 
1869 (Bibliogr. 51). 

Sigwart (Dr. Christoph) : Benedict de Spinoza s kurzer 
Tractat von Gott, dem Menschen und dessen Gliickseligkeit, 
&c. Tubingen, 1870 (Bibliogr. 53). A translation with com 
mentary : cf. the same author s earlier monograph Spinoza s 
neuentdeckter Tractat, &c. Gotha, 1866 (Bibliogr. 144). 

All these are important, and also Trendelenburg s essay 
already mentioned. I must be allowed to express the pleasure 
I have found in Professor Schaarschmidt s preface, apart from 
its considerable philosophical merits, as an example of elegant 
and unaffected modern Latinity. Quite lately M. Paul Janet 
has given us the first French version of the treatise, with an 
excellent introduction : 

Supplement aux CEuvres de Spinoza : Dieu, 1 homme et 
la beatitude : traduit pour la premiere fois en frangais et 
precede d une introduction. Paris, 1878. 

Monographs on special aspects and relations of Spinoza s 
philosophy are too numerous to be effectively dealt with here. 
Dr. Joel s researches on the Jewish predecessors of Spinoza 
(Beitrage zur Geschichte der Philosophic, Breslau, 1 876, a re 
issue of several earlier published essays of various dates) 
are mentioned in the body of the work (ch. iv.). Dr. Joel s 
inferences are criticised by Mr. W. R. Sorley in Mind) No. 


I( )> July 1880, Jewish Mediaeval Philosophy and Spinoza, 
who holds that Spinoza s relation to these thinkers was as 
much one of antagonism as Descartes relation to Christian 
Scholasticism, and indeed much more so. 

Spinoza s Relation to Descartes. Bouillier, Histoire de la 
Philosophic Cartesienne, 3rd ed., Paris, 1868, 2 vols., chaps, 
xv-xix in vol. i. being on Spinoza (not in Bibliogr.). 

Dr. F. G. Hann : Die Ethik Spinoza s und die Philosophic 
Descartes, Innsbruck, 1875. 

Encyclop&dia Britannica, Qth ed., art. Cartcsianism, by 
Professor Caird. 

All these writers adhere to the view that Spinoza s philo 
sophy is a direct development from Descartes, and little or 
nothing else. 

Bearings of Spinoza on Modern Tlieology. Heine : Zur 
Geschichte der Religion und Philosophic in Deutschland, 2tes 
Buch. Samnitl. Werke, vol. v. p. 123 sqq. 

Matthew Arnold : Spinoza and the Bible. In Essays in 
Criticism, 3rd ed. London, 1875, at p. 357. 

Prof. Robert Flint : Anti-theistic theories. Being the 
Baird lecture for 1877. Edinburgh and London, 1879. 

Pp. 358-375 are on Spinoza; also note xxxviii. pp. 

Prof. Flint s opinions as to the value, speculative and 
practical, of Spinoza s philosophy belong to a school from 
which I widely differ : he speaks, for example, of the ethical 
and political applications of Spinoza s doctrine as immoral 
and slavish. But his work deserves respect as that of a 
thoroughly competent scholar. The note will be found useful 
by students. 

Dr. M. M. Kalisch: Path and Goal. London, 1880: see 
pp. 377-405, in title Pantheism. 

Relations of Spinoza to Modern Philosophy CMd Literature. 
Conrad von Orelli : Spinoza s Leben and Lehre, &c., 2nd 
ed. Aarau, 1850 (Bibliogr. 130). 

The specific object of this work is to defend Spinoza 
against the criticisms of Schelling, Hegel, and their followers. 
It contains a careful discussion of Spinoza s philosophy, and 
collects many^opinions and sayings of modern writers on him. 


Nourrisson : Spinoza et le naturalisme contemporain. 
Paris, 1866 (Bibliogr. 141). 

In this little book literary and bibliographical notices of 
real interest are strangely associated with superficial and de 
clamatory criticism. Cf. M. Paul Janet s article in Revue des 
Deux Mondes, July 15, 1867. 

Dr. S. E. Lowenhardt : Benedictus von Spinoza in seinem 
Verhaltnisz zur Philosophic und Naturforschung der neueren 
Zeit. Berlin, 1872. 

An able vindication of the harmony of Spinoza s doctrine 
with modern physiology and psychology. Several modern 
criticisms of Spinoza are considered in detail. 

Paul Janet : French Thought and Spinozism. In Contem 
porary Review, May 1877. 

Dr. Karl Rehorn : G. E. Lessing s Stellung zur Philoso 
phic des Spinoza. Frankfurt am Main, 1 877. 

Guyau : La morale d Epicure et ses rapports avec les 
doctrines contemporaines. Paris, 1878. 

Pp. 227-237 are on Spinoza. Le vaste systeme de 
Spinoza, ou ceux d Epicure et de Hobbes sont absorbes, con- 
tient d avance les theories fondamentales de 1 ecole utilitaire 
frangaise et anglaise. 

Jellinek (Dr. Georg) : Die Beziehungen Gothes zu 
Spinoza. Vortrag gehalten im Vereine der Literaturfreunde 
zu Wien. Wien, 1878. 

Frohschammer (Prof. J.) : Ueber die Bedeutung der 
Einbildungskraft in der Philosophic Kant s und Spinoza s. 
Miinchen, 1879. The part concerned with Spinoza (pp. 
118-172) is an ingenious attempt to read into Spinoza, or 
exhibit as necessary for the completeness of Spinoza s system, 
an approximation to the author s own point of view. 

In conclusion, it may be proper to say a word of the 
method I have myself followed. While I have endeavoured 
to make myself acquainted as far as practicable with the 
modern literature of the subject, my opinions of the meaning 
and value of Spinoza s philosophy have been formed by the 
study of Spinoza at first hand ; and if this book induces even 
a few readers to do the same thing for themselves, and to 


forget as far as possible, in so doing, what they may have 
read about Spinoza here or elsewhere, I shall desire no 
other success. The only way to understand a great philoso 
pher is to meet him face to face, whatever the apparent diffi 
culties. A certain amount of historical preparation is indeed 
at least advisable ; for to apprehend rightly the speech of a 
past time one must know something of its conditions. Apart 
from this, the author is his own best interpreter, and it has been 
my aim rather to make Spinoza explain himself than to dis 
cover explanations from the outside. As Herder says, Einen 
Schriftsteller aus sich selbst zu erklaren ist die honestas jedem 
honest o schuldig. 





Quae cum magna modis multis miranda videtur 
gentibus humanis regio visendaque fertur, 
rebus opima bonis, multa munita virum vi, 
nil tamen hoc habuisse viro praeclarius in se, 
nee sanctum magis et mirum carumque videtur. 

LUCRETIUS, i. 726. 

BARUCH DE SPINOZA was born at Amsterdam on November 
24, I632. 1 His parents, of whose circumstances and position 
in life nothing certain is known, were members of the com 
munity of Jewish emigrants from Portugal and Spain which 
had then been established in the Netherlands for something 
more than a generation. Before we enter on Spinoza s life, 
it may be not amiss to let our attention rest for a while on 
the society in which he was brought up, the vicissitudes of 
jits foundation and growth, and the tone of thought and in 
struction which prevailed in it. 2 Something we may there 

1 The house has been identified with great probability within the last few 
years. Certainty is to be attained, however, only by the inspection of documents 
jkvhich the owner of the house refuses to produce. 

2 My chief authority on this subject is Gratz, Geschichte der Juden, vols. ix. 
; ind x. I have also consulted Koenen, Geschiedenis der Joden in Nederland 
[Utrecht, 1843). 



find to throw light on the manner in which the early signs of 
Spinoza s philosophical genius were received by his own 
people, though we shall assuredly be disappointed if we look 
in external circumstances of education or study, in the in 
fluence of masters or companions either Jewish or Gentile, 
for an explanation of that genius itself. It was well said of 
an Indian poet : Of mighty men and of great rivers the 
springs are obscure. The enlarged and purified vision of 
modern science may perceive much, and guess more, of the 
conditions that make the appearance of genius possible. But 
the conditions which fix it at the very time and place, the 
secret workings of nature which bring it to pass that an 
^Eschylus, a Lionardo, a Faraday, a Kant, or a Spinoza is 
born upon the earth, are as obscure now as they were a thou 
sand years ago. The power of these men still bears with it 
the reverence and awe that belong to great things unaccount 

The result of the persecutions, banishments, and forcible 
conversions which had earned for the sovereigns of Spain the 
title of Catholic, and laid the foundation of their country s ruin 
at the very height of its prosperity, had been to leave in Spain 
and Portugal a large class of new Christians/ nominally con 
verted and openly conforming Jews who in many cases kept 
up in secret, from generation to generation, some remnant of 
Jewish usages. Their tendencies to covert persistence in the 
faith and customs of their fathers were watched by the In 
quisition with an evil and sleepless eye. Persecutions, autos da 
//, and, notwithstanding all the vigilance of the Spanish govern 
ment, flights from the land of the oppressor were constant. 
Towards the close of the sixteenth century it seemed as if the 
precarious state of the _Marnmos so these unacknowledged 
Jews were called was about to become hopeless. The power 
of Spain still waxed in Europe ; where Spain went, there the 
Inquisition followed ; and where the Inquisition came, there 
justice and mercy ceased to be. 


The Italian States, which had formerly offered a refuge to 
the exiles, were no longer safe for them. England, now the 
chief Protestant country, had driven out the Jews three 
centuries before, and they did not again find admission till 
the last days of the Commonwealth. It was out of the 
dominion of Spain herself that the light of deliverance first 
shone. The fury of the Inquisition defeated its own purpose. 
The Netherlands revolted from the intolerable combination of 
secular with spiritual tyranny ; and from the desperate rising, 
as it at first seemed, of a handful of subjects in a corner of the 
Spanish Empire there sprang a commonwealth which for the 
greater part of a century was the most free, the most pro 
sperous, and the most tolerant in Europe. 

No sooner was the independence of the Netherlands 

practically secure than the new Christians of Spain and 

Portugal began to look thither for a refuge. In or about 

1591 overtures were made to the magistrates of Middelburg 

for a settlement of Marranos, which would have secured to 

the province of Zealand the first advantages of Jewish 

industry and commerce. The civil authorities were disposed 

to enter into the plan, but theological prejudice stood in 

the way. The Reformed clergy set themselves against the 

proposal, and nothing came of it. But in the spring of 1593 

a vessel sailed in secret from Portugal with a small company 

of Marranos, 1 determined to adventure themselves on the 

Dutch coasts, and trust their fortunes to the principles of 

toleration that had been proclaimed by William of Orange. 

I After a not uneventful voyage they landed at Emderi, and 

I found assistance at the hands of German Jews already settled 

I some time past in East Friesland. By their advice the fugitives 

I made their way to Amsterdam, where they arrived on April 23. 

! This little nucleus of a colony soon received accession. In 1 596 

! the English fleet under Essex, returning from the sack of Cadiz, 

brought a number of new Christians, presumably not un- 

1 Gfatz, ix. 492, arid, as to the exact date, #. note io. 
B 2 


willing prisoners, who openly returned to Judaism as soon as 
they were safe in Holland. It was some time before any 
official notice was taken of the new community, and its 
recognition was hastened by a curious accident. The 
celebration of the Day of Atonement attracted the suspicion 
of the citizens, who knew that the immigrants came from 
Popish lands, and guessed that their mysterious meeting 
could be nothing else than a Popish plot. The congregation 
was surprised by armed force, and the leaders arrested. 
These, once in the presence of the magistrates, speedily 
convinced them that the Pope and the Inquisition were as 
odious to themselves as to the Protestants of the United 
Provinces. Being thus made known to the civil powers, the 
Jews were emboldened to ask leave to build a synagogue. 
After some discussion this was granted, and the first syna 
gogue of Amsterdam was opened in 1 598. Ten years later 
the numbers of the colony had so much increased that a new 
synagogue was needed. This was itself only temporary. In 
1675, when the Jewish community of Amsterdam had reached 
the height of its prosperity, the present Portuguese synagogue 
was completed, amidst the felicitations not only of Jewish but 
of Christian theologians and poets. 

Meanwhile some years more seem to have passed before 
the Jews acquired a distinct legal status. They were ex 
posed to inconvenience from an unexpected quarter ; for in 
the battle of Remonstrants and Contra-Remonstrants the 
worsted Remonstrants took the line of complaining that 
various strange sects, including Jews, 1 enjoyed a freedom of 
worship which was denied to themselves. These complaints 
did the Remonstrants no good, but they did the Jews some 
little harm. Mixed marriages were forbidden ; the Jews 
were once threatened, if not more, with the closing of the 

1 Ja de Joden zelfs, die Christus verzaken, welke zij supplianten (i.e. your 
petitioners) houden voor huu eenigen Heiland. Remonstrant Petition, 1617, ap. 
Koenen, p. 145. 


synagogue ; and it seems that in other parts of the Nether 
lands they were not always sure even of personal liberty. In 
1619 an ordinance was made by the States of Holland, on the 
report of a commission appointed some time before, by which 
provision was made for the regular admission and government 
of the Jews. 1 After this the Hebrew colony waxed and 
throve apace. We have still a living record of their prosperity 
in Rembrandt s grave and majestic portraits of Jewish 
merchants and rabbis. And they increased and multiplied 
with every fresh act of persecuting folly in the Spanish 
peninsula. Had the Catholic rulers intended to impoverish 
their own countries and enrich the heretical provinces, they 
could not have done it better. The exiles, though they pre 
served among themselves (as their descendants still preserve 
for official purposes) the use of the Portuguese and Spanish 
languages, and even in their ceremonies and manners had 
some remnants of their old outward conformity to the Church 
of Rome, soon repaid the hospitality of their adopted country 
with faithful attachment, as well as with the material advan 
tages that accompanied their settlement. Spinoza was a good 
citizen if not an active one ; and several passages of his writings 
show that the free institutions of the Dutch Republic were to 
him the object not merely of esteem but of patriotic affection. 
Yet he has been accused even in our own time of preaching 
maxims of despotism. But for the present let us return 
from his critics to his immediate ancestors and contemporaries. 
The occasion was a great one for the rising Jewish 
community, the New Jerusalem, as it was already called in 
Spinoza s generation. The leaders of the Amsterdam syna 
gogue might, in the opinion of the latest and most exact 
historian of the Jewish nation, have done wonders if they had 
been capable of making the most of their fortune. But they 

1 Koenen, 147. Each Province was to make its own rules, subject to the 
condition that no distinctive dress or badge (such as was usual in Catholic 
countries) should be imposed. Koenen gives no particulars of what was done at 


were not men of that stamp. Ability, industry, and fortitude 
they possessed : the renovating power of genius was wanting. 
Their learning was rather of that formalist kind which is dis 
concerted by genius, and forces a quarrel on it. And so it 
was when genius appeared among them in the person of 
Spinoza. The conjecture which deals with lost possibilities 
might amuse itself worse than with the contemplation of what 
the author of the ( Tractatus Theologico-Politicus and friend 
of De Witt might have done for his people in civil and political 
matters if he had remained in their community. 

Saul Levi Morteira, said to have been Spinoza s instructor, 
was a man who had no claim to original powers. Pie was 
not specially remarkable for eloquence, nor did he stand in 
the first rank of Jewish learning ; altogether he was of those 
who care not to commit themselves out of beaten paths. 
His colleague, Isaac Aboab de Fonseca, presided over the 
synagogue of Amsterdam for nearly seventy years. Eloquence 
was his chief, it would seem his only gift. His discourses 
commanded admiration, but he was neither eminent in 
learning nor fitted to deal with questions of practical moment. 
PJis character was lacking in force, his perceptions in width 
and comprehension ; he was not capable of firm and clear 
sighted action. 

A better known personage than either of these two was 
Manasseh ben Israel. His father, like others of the first 
founders of the colony, had escaped from the pious cares of 
the Holy Office, shattered in body and ruined in estate, to 
find his last resting-place among his own people. The son 
has a place in the social history of England by his unsparing 
efforts to procure from Cromwell the readmission of the Jews. 
He had to encounter much opposition, including an extra 
ordinary polemic from Prynne, in which a great deal of curi- 
J learning was mixed up with repetition of all the mediaeval 
ies of Jewish child-murder, cannibalism, and sacrilege. 
Nor did he live to see his purpose effected : he died in 1657, 


and the Jews found their way back into England on a footing 
of informal but unquestioned liberty only after the Restora 
tion. But the way had none the less been made for them by 
Manasseh ben Israel s endeavours. It may be (as Dr. Gratz 
suggests) that the very foibles of his character, his turn for 
mystical interpretations of theology, and his credulity as to 
prophetic signs and seasons, were additions to his strength 
for that particular work, and that a stronger man would not 
have done it so well. His credulity was indeed nothing 
singular : about the same time a deputation of Asiatic Jews 
came to England to inquire if Cromwell were not the Messiah. 
For his learning, it was ample and various, and extended to 
European as well as Hebrew literature. But it did not save 
him from giving himself over to superstition and letter- 
worship which often ran into puerilities. He was a voluminous 
writer, but wrote with an undiscerning hand, mixing up in 
his compilation things wise and foolish. Yet he had one 
power which may at times almost fill the place of genius 
the power of winning men s friendship. He was of an open 
and generous nature, which showed itself in that frank 
urbanity and polished conversation which is wont everywhere 
to draw confidence to it. 

At the time when the congregation of Amsterdam con 
demned Spinoza, Manasseh ben Israel was absent on his 
mission to England. It may be doubted whether his presence 
would have ensured any more rational course of action. 
A believer in the verbal inspiration of the Talmud could 
have had nothing to urge for moderation, unless on 
grounds of secular policy ; and in this case it is by no means 
clear that policy was not for once on the side of the 

In the generation before Spinoza the Jewish common 
wealth of Amsterdam did not enjoy unbroken peace within 
itself. For many years there was a schism in the synagogue, 
arising out of the scandal caused to the stricter members by 


the survival of Spanish-Catholic practices and manners ; and 
in Spinoza s first years the congregation was troubled by the 
strange career of Uriel_ da Costa. He too, deserves brief 
mention here ; not that he was a person of any weight or in- 
/ fluence, much less a precursor of Spinoza ; but his fate illus 
trates the temper of the times, and his excommunication may 
have served as a precedent in Spinoza s case. He was born 
of a New Christian family in Oporto ; his parents were, how 
ever, orthodox in conviction as well as in name, and he re 
ceived a learned education under Jesuit instructors. Dissatis 
fied with their formal dogmatism, he betook himself to the 
study of the prophets of the Old Testament ; and the result 
was that he fled to Amsterdam, together with his mother and 
brothers, joined the synagogue, and changed his former Chris 
tian name Gabriel for the purely Jewish one of Uriel. But 
here also disappointment awaited him. He was perplexed 
and shocked by the discrepance between Judaism such as he 
found it, or thought to find it, in the Scriptures, and such as 
it had been made by Rabbinical gloss and tradition. He 
denounced the modern teachers and rulers as Pharisees, and 
set their ceremonies at naught ; they replied to his criticism 
by excommunicating him. He went on to publish a contro 
versial tract against the immortality of the soul ; upon this the 
chiefs of the synagogue denounced him to the civil authorities, 
and he was fined and imprisoned, and his book publicly burnt. 
For fifteen years he endured the social penalties of excom 
munication, but at length his patience gave way, and he was 
formally reconciled. But he seems to have made no secret of 
the purely outward character of his conformity. 1 At this very 
time his course of unregulated speculation was leading him 
on from an anti-Rabbinical and as it were Puritan Judaism 
to a doctrine of bare natural Deism. Nor did he observe 
ordinary caution in his conversation. There followed a new 
and more stringent excommunication, to be taken off only 

1 Er wollte, wie er sagte, unter Affen auch ein Affe sein. Gratz, x. 137. 


on condition of a solemn and public act of penance. Da Costa 
held out this time for seven years, and then again submitted. 
He underwent a humiliating ceremony, modelled on those of 
the Inquisition, which were probably known by bitter personal 
experience to some of those present. 

It is a general fact in human history, and one of the sad 
dest, that no sooner has a persecuted community secured its 
freedom than it takes to persecuting in its turn. This was 
shown at the very same time by the Reformed Church of the 
Netherlands : Those who but a few years before had com 
plained of the cruelty of the Church of Rome were no sooner 
delivered from that, than they began to call for the same ways 
of persecuting those who were of the other side, l And it was 
not far from this time that the Puritan colonists of New 
England set up an ecclesiastical tyranny far more oppressive 
and searching than that from which they had fled. Da Costa s 
penance was completed by his lying down athwart the thresh 
old of the synagogue, so that the whole congregation stepped 
over him as they passed out. Humiliation he must have ex- 
pected, but the reality was too much for his pride. He deter 
mined to live only so long as was needful to commit to writ 
ing, in the form of an autobiography, a fierce denunciation of 
his enemies and persecutors. Having completed this writing, 
he shot himself in his own house. 

It does not seem that Da Costa s speculations had any 
value, and his character cannot be said to call for admiration. 
Martyrs and confessors in the cause of free thought have not 
been so few or so weak that one who was twice excommuni 
cated, and twice recanted, can claim a high place among them ; 
and there was at least a large element of personal pique and 
resentment in Da Costa s later courses. But we cannot refuse 
our pity to a life cast among such untoward surroundings, nor 
can we acquit the chiefs of the synagogue of excessive and 
ill-judged harshness throughout their dealings with this un- 

1 Burnet, History of his own 7^ime, i. 315. 


happy man. His story prepares us to hear with much less 
surprise of Spinoza s treatment sixteen years later. 

As to the general state of education among the Jews of 
Amsterdam, they were exceedingly well provided with the 
appliances of learning and literature then current. So much 
would sufficiently appear from Spinoza s works and corre 
spondence alone. His writing is that of a man who has been 
brought up among scholars and has mastered betimes all the 
knowledge that a scholar is expected to possess. But high 
literary culture and great literary facility are compatible with 
great feebleness of intellectual grasp. Scholarship is in itself 
no warranty of sound thinking. And so it was that the 
Hebrew scholars whp exchanged more or less elegant Latin 
verses with European scholars of the stamp of Grotius or 
Barlaeus were ready and even eager to give ear to the wildest 
and most idle fancies in matters of theology and philosophy. 
The doctrine of the Kabbalah, likened by the historian to 
whom I am so much indebted to a fungus growth creeping 
over the body of the Law and the Traditions, was almost uni 
versally received. A generation filled with the east wind of 
mystical ravings hungered after signs and wonders, and signs 
and wonders came without stint. Demoniacs, exorcisms, 
miracles, false prophets, even false Messiahs, fed the credulity 
of the Levantine Jews, and deceived not a few elsewhere. 
The most singular appearance of this kind, the career of 
Sabbatai Zevi, belongs however to a somewhat later date. 
Accounts of the dreams, revelations, and supernatural feats of 
the new prophets were published and eagerly read ; and 
besides these the epidemic of superstition produced a specu 
lative literature of its own. One of these works, composed 
by a Polish Jew, Naphtali ben Jakob Elchanan, who had 
caught the Kabbalistic contagion in Palestine, and published 
at Amsterdam in 1648, is described by Dr. Gratz l as not 
containing a single rational sentence : < yet leading rabbis of 

1 Gratz, x. 131. 


Germany and Poland accepted this puddle of nauseous 
blasphemy as a fountain of divine wisdom. If these were the 
studies in favour among Spinoza s teachers and companions, 
we can hardly wonder at the tone of something like contempt 
in which he generally speaks of current Jewish opinion. 

Such, then, was the society into which Spinoza was born. 
The accustomed course of education was almost if not alto 
gether confined to the Hebrew language and literature. With 
these, therefore, Spinoza was early made familiar, and at the 
age of fifteen he had gone so far in the study of the Talmud as 
to be one of Rabbi Morteira s most promising pupils. In the 
advanced classes of the Amsterdam school he had the oppor 
tunity of mastering the philosophical writings of the golden age 
of modern Jewish learning, the commentaries of Maimonides 
and Ibn Ezra. The probable effect of these on the develop 
ment of his thought will be more fully spoken of in a later 
place. Enough to say here that he found in the hints and 
questionings of these men much more than his teachers 
expected him to find or were themselves capable of find 

Secular learning and accomplishments had to be sought 
in other quarters. The elements of Latin were imparted to 
Spinoza by a German master whose name is not known ; he 
continued the study with Francis van den Ende, 1 a physician 
as well as a man of letters, whose high reputation as a teacher 
was qualified by the suspicion that he taught his pupils free- 
thinking as well as Latin. The charge may have been true, 
but it may just as well have been a mere popular inference 
from the known fact that he was a proficient in the natural 
sciences. So much is certain, and it is probable that he 
communicated this part of his knowledge, no less than that 
which he specially professed to teach, to those who showed 

1 His name is given in the documents relating to the Chevalier de Rohan s 
plot as Francis Affinius van den Enden. Se Clement, Episodes de f Histoire de 
France, Paris, 1859. 


themselves apt for it : for Spinoza s works afford unmistak 
able evidence of thorough and sound instruction in physical 
science, and more especially physiology, which cannot well 
have been acquired at a later time of his life ; not that he 
makes any great display of knowledge, but that with many 
occasions for mistakes he commits few or none. As to Latin, 
at all events, Van den Ende s charge was efficiently per 
formed. Spinoza mastered it completely, not indeed accord 
ing to the fine and exacting standards of later scholarship, 
but more completely in one sense, for he made it a living 
instrument of thought. His language is not what we call 
classical, but it is handled with perfect command and per 
fectly adapted to its ends. At the same time it appears by 
quotations and allusions that he was fairly well at home with 
the Latin classics. His knowledge of Greek was more 
limited, and by his own account not critical. 1 Of modern 
languages he knew French, German, and Italian, besides 
Portuguese and Spanish, one or both of which were native to 
him. It appears from evidences made public early in the last 
century, but afterwards lost sight of until quite recently, that 
he always regarded Dutch as a foreign language, and wrote 
it only with difficulty. Such little circumstances help us to 
realize the self-contained isolation in which the Hebrew com 
munity must have dwelt even among well-wishers. 

It was perhaps through his intercourse with Van den 
Ende that Spinoza became acquainted with the writings of 
Giordano Bruno and Descartes. As to Descartes, indeed, 
explanation may be dispensed with ; no young man with a 
philosophical turn of mind could help reading him. But as 
to Giordano Bruno, if one assumes (on the grounds to be 
mentioned hereafter) that Spinoza had read him, one may be 
fairly called on to assign the occasion for it. Giordano Bruno 
would not otherwise have come naturally in Spinoza s way ; 
his theories were scarcely less abhorrent to Jews and Pro- 

1 Tract. Theol.-Pol. cap. x. ad fin. 


testants than to Catholics. But it is quite possible that Van 
den Ende may have more or less cherished Bruno in private, 
and discussed him with a select few of his learners. This 
would have been just the kind of study to procure for Van 
den Ende the alarming reputation handed down to us by 
Colerus. Besides his graver pursuits Spinoza contrived to 
acquire considerable skill in drawing : he filled a book with 
portrait sketches, many of them being of distinguished per 
sons. This book was at one time in the possession of Colerus, 
but there is no further trace of it. 

There is a story that Van den Ende was assisted in his 
teaching by a daughter, of singular wit, learning, and accom 
plishments. Spinoza, the story goes, was among her pupils, 
and from a pupil became a lover. But he had a rival in a 
fellow-pupil named Kerkering, who finally won the lady s 
hand by the help of a valuable pearl necklace. Now it is true 
that Van den Ende had a daughter named Clara Maria, who 
married Theodore Kerkkrinck (such is the authentic form of 
the name). The date of the marriage, however, has been 
ascertained by Van Vloten to be 16/1 (the year when Van 
den Ende left Holland), and it appears by the register that the 
bride was twenty-seven years old. Now Spinoza was excom 
municated and left Amsterdam in 1656. Clara Maria van 
den Ende was therefore eleven or twelve years old at the latest 
time when Spinoza could have been her father s pupil, and the 
tale of the students rivalry and the pearl necklace must be 
dismissed. Kerkkrinck was a physician, who published works 
on medicine, anatomy and chemistry, and earned a consider 
able scientific reputation, so that the match was in itself a 
natural one enough for Van den Ende s daughter. The, 
question remains whether the tale of Spinoza s love for her is 
absolutely without foundation. There is no reason whatever 
to suppose that Spinoza did not keep up his acquaintance 
with Van den Ende in the visits which we know that he 
made from time to time to Amsterdam ; and thus we have 


occasion and room enough for a friendship extending into 
Klaartje s riper years, which may have passed into a serious 
inclination. A romantic affection we cannot ascribe to 
Spinoza at this time : it would be too much out of keeping 
with all his habits and character; and one may shrewdly 
suspect that his inclination never in truth got beyond a 
hypothetical stage. He was likely enough to be rallied by 
host or friends on his hermit life, and not unlikely to put them 
off with some such answer as that, if he married a wife, it 
should be Van den Ende s daughter. A speech or two of 
this kind would be ample foundation for the story given by 
Colerus, and a simple confusion of dates would do the rest. 

Yet there is one chance left if we are minded to hold fast 
to the solitary piece of romance that can be suggested in 
Spinoza s life. Nothing forbids us to suppose that at the 
earlier time there sprang up some half ideal, half childish 
affection between Spinoza and Clara van den Ende ; there is 
no violation of possibility in conceiving her as standing to 
him in a relation like that of Beatrice to Dante. As far as 
ages go the probability is even greater than in Dante s case ; 
so that, unless we join ourselves to those over-curious persons 
who would allegorize away the Vita Nuova, we have a fair 
precedent enough. Beatrice was nine years old, Dante him 
self only ten, when the glorious lady of his soul first 
showed herself to his eyes, and the word came to him, Ecce 
deus fortior me, qui veniens dominabitur mihi. Spinoza was 
not a poet, some one will say. No, but he was a mystic at 
the time in question, which for this purpose will do at least as 
well. But I throw out this merely for the chance of anyone 
finding comfort in it. As a hypothesis it seems to me much 
less probable than the other ; and even if the facts had been as 
suggested, Spinoza was not the man to be very communicative 
about them. The truth is that we have no positive evidence 
at all. We have only a story which, as it stands, cannot 
possibly be true, and which does not rest on any satisfactory 



authority. The absence of any apparent motive for inventing 
the whole of it raises a certain presumption that it contains in 
a more or less distorted form elements of genuine fact, 
derived from statements made by Spinoza himself. But what 
those elements may be we have no means of determining. 

As to Van den Ende himself, one is sorry to know that 
he came to a bad end. In his old age he settled in France, 
and had been there only a few years when he was drawn into 
the conspiracy of the Chevalier de Rohan and La Treau- 
mont, partly by working on his patriotism with hopes that the 
affair would turn to the profit of the Netherlands, partly 
by flattering his speculative fancy with dreams of a Utopian 
republic to be established on the ruins of the French 
monarchy. A general rising in Normandy was to be 
supported by a descent of the Dutch fleet : the admiral, 
Cornelius Tromp, was fully prepared to take his part, and 
long hovered on the French coast awaiting the signal; which 
never came. But the conspiracy, though carefully planned, 
was hollow from the first ; it was a venture of disappointed 
and desperate personal ambitions. It was discovered before 
any part of it could be put in execution, and its leaders paid 
the usual penalty of unsuccessful conspirators. Van den Ende 
was hanged at Paris on November 27, 1674. 

So much is known of Spinoza for the first twenty-three 
years of his life. Not long after he had fully attained man s 
estate the elders of his people began to remark in him an 
unwonted freedom of discourse^ and possibly some laxity in 
ceremonial observances which would of itself have sufficed as 
an ostensible ground of censure. One anecdote of this time, 
plausible enough to be worth repeating, has come down to 
us. 1 Two fellow T -students, it is said, questioned Spinoza 
closely on theology ; he put them off with general reference 
to the authority of Moses and the Prophets as sufficient for all 

1 This is from Lucas ; in other words we may give ic just so much credit as 
it appears on the face of it to deserve. 


true Israelites. But as far as their authority goes, answered 
one of his companions, I cannot find any such thing as that 
God is incorporeal, the soul immortal, or angels real beings. 
What say you, then, to these matters ? Spinoza replied that 
he could see no objection in point of orthodoxy to holding 
that God has a body, 1 or that angels are mere apparitions 
created for the special occasion of their ministry (for which, 
indeed, or for something very like it, there is Talmudic 
authority : a circumstance likely enough to be known to 
Spinoza and overlooked by his questioners), and that the 
Scriptures use soul as a pure synonym of life, without saying 
any thing about immortality. The two friends were only half 
satisfied ; but Spinoza, while he promised to give them fuller 
explanations another time, contrived not to find any oppor 
tunity of renewing the discourse. We have no trustworthy 
or distinct account of the events that led to Spinoza s rupture 
with the congregation ; but certain it is that in the early part of 
the year 1656 it was considered by Morteira and his colleague 
that action of a decided kind must be taken. 

It has already been remarked that the persecuted of Spain 
and Portugal had brought a leaven of persecuting zeal to their 
new asylum. But in this case reasons of secular policy were 
potent counsellors to the same effect. The Jewish community 
was a kind of state within a state, a society foreign in religion, 
language, and manners to its hosts. To expose themselves 
to the charge of fostering novelties in speculation might well 
have been a serious danger to them. As prudent governors 
of their household, it behoved the chief men to suffer no 
more scandals within it like that of Da Costa. And Spinoza s 
particular novelties might be thought eminently fitted to 
bring them into trouble. He busied himself with Descartes, 
and the Synod of Dort (not the first and famous, but a second 
one) had just condemned Cartesianism. The best way would 
be to make things quiet while it was yet time ; the next best, 

1 Compare Hobbes s arguments on this point. 


if the erratic member could not be brought to take the fitting 
measure of heed, at least in his public ways, was to cut him 
off at once and disclaim all responsibility for him. Accord-/ 
ingly the way of compromise was first tried, and an annuity] 
of 1000 florins was offered to Spinoza as the price of apparent] 
conformity. This however was positively declined. The 
next step } was to summon Spinoza before the congregation 
and inflict on him the first degree of ecclesiastical censure, the 
lower excommunication, which excluded the offender for 
thirty days from the society of the faithful, and was intended 
to operate as a serious invitation to repentance. 

During the period of suspense which followed, Spinoza s 
life was aimed at by an unknown enemy, presumably some 
fanatic outrunning the zeal of his masters, or thinking himself 
a divinely appointed messenger to rebuke their tardiness in 
defending the faith by a striking example. This man set 
upon Spinoza with a dagger one evening as he was leaving 
the Portuguese synagogue. 2 But he avoided the blow in 
time, and it pierced only his coat, which he afterwards kept 
in the same condition as a memorial. Being warned by this 
attack that Amsterdam was no longer a safe place for him, 
he betook himself to the hospitality of a friend who dwelt a 
little way out of the city, on the Ouwerkerk road. His host 
belonged to the small dissenting community of Remonstrants 
or Collegiants. Here, under the roof of heretics anathe 
matized by the Synod of Dort, he learnt the final decision of 
the Jewish congregation on the charge of heresy against 
himself. The sentence was pronounced on July 27, 1656, in 
the Portuguese language, and its effect is as follows : 

1 Our data for these events are still meagre, and their order in time uncertain : 
but we cannot doubt that a lesser excommunication preceded the final one. See 
Gratz, x. 175. Lucas gives what purport to be details of the earlier proceedings, 
but in his usual confused manner and with improbable circumstances. 

2 I follow Colerus s account as the best supported and most probable. Diffi 
culties have been raised about the incident : they are discussed in Van Vloten s 
Levensbode, ix. 419. 



1 The chiefs of the council do you to wit, that having long 
known the evil opinions and works of Baruch de Espinoza, 
they have endeavoured by divers ways and promises to with 
draw him from his evil ways, and they are unable to find a 
remedy, but on the contrary have had every day more know 
ledge of the abominable heresies practised and taught by him, 
and of other enormities committed by him, and have of this 
many trustworthy witnesses, who have deposed and borne 
witness in the presence of the said Espinoza, and by whom he 
stood convicted ; all which having been examined in the 
presence of the elders, it has been determined with their 
assent that the said Espinoza should be excommunicated 
and cut off from the nation of Israel ; and now he is hereby 
excommunicated with the following anathema : 

With the judgment of the angels and of the saints we 
excommunicate, cut off, curse, and anathematize Baruch de 
Espinoza, with the consent of the elders and of all this holy 
congregation, in the presence of the holy books : by the 613 
precepts which are written therein, with the anathema where 
with Joshua cursed Jericho, with the curse which Elisha laid 
upon the children, and with all the curses which are written 
in the law. Cursed be he by day and cursed be he by night. 
Cursed be he in sleeping and cursed be he in waking, cursed 
in going out and cursed in coming in. The Lord shall not 
pardon him, the wrath and fury of the Lord shall henceforth 
be kindled against this man, and shall lay upon him all the 
curses which are written in the book of the law. The Lord 
shall destroy his name under the sun, and cut him off for his 
undoing from all the tribes of Israel, with all the curses of the 
firmament which are written in the book of the law. But ye 
that cleave unto the Lord your God, live all of you this day. 

And we warn you, that none may speak with him by word 
of mouth nor by writing, nor show any favour to him, nor be 
under one roof with him, nor come within four cubits of him, 
nor read any paper composed or written by him. 


From the terms of the excommunication something, but 
not much, may be gathered as to the form which the accusa 
tion had assumed. It is not on the face of it a condemnation 
for mere speculative opinions ; indeed such a condemnation 
would not be warranted by Jewish law. The heresies practised 
and taught ( horrendas heresias que praticava e ensinava ) 
point at some active attempt to spread his opinions, and the 
mention of * other enormities on Spinoza s part ( ynormes 
obras que obrava ) probably refers to breaches of ceremonial 
rules, and is not (though to an English reader it looks so at 
first sight) a meaningless addition like the alia enormia of 
old-fashioned English pleadings. 

Thus was Baruch de Spinoza made an outcast from 
Israel, and cut off from his own people and from his father s 
house. The ties of kindred, ties which for that people have ever 
been of exceeding strength and sanctity, were for him severed 
beyond recall. The bond of fellowship among Israelites is of 
strength and sanctity only less than that of actual kindred ; 
and this also was at once and irrevocably dissolved. The 
excommunicated Jew became as it were a masterless man ; 
he had no title by which he could call upon either Jew or 
Christian to stand by him or answer for him. If it is a good 
preparation for philosophy to be alone in the world, the need 
ful discipline came upon Spinoza with terrible completeness. 
It is hardly possible for men at this time, either in Spinoza s 
country or in our own, to realize the full effect of such a blow. 
But Spinoza never faltered under it : the passionate weakness 
of Uriel da Costa was far from his nature. This compels me/ 
he said on receiving the news, to nothing which I should not 
otherwise have done. Thus it would seem that he held him 
self to have renounced the synagogue of his own motion rather 
than to have been driven from it ; and the title of a defence 
which he wrote in Spanish and sent to the elders points the 
same way. This paper itself has never been found ; ! it is 

1 Unless it was identical with or developed into the polemic against the Jews 

c 2 


supposed, however, to have contained some foreshadowing of 
the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus/ It is said that the chiefs 
of the synagogue were not content with inflicting their utmost 
ecclesiastical penalty. They represented to the civil authori 
ties that Spinoza was a dangerous person ; their request was 
backed by the Reformed clergy, and a sentence of banishment 
for a short time was pronounced against Spinoza, who must 
have already left the city. But sentences of this kind against 
men who have forestalled them by absence are common 
enough in history. The incident does not rest on good autho 
rity, 1 but the fact that similar proceedings had been taken in 
the case of Da Costa renders it not improbable in itself. 
From this time forth, in any case, we have to think of Spinoza 
as removed from Amsterdam and the associations of his 
youth. He marked the severance himself by disusing his 
Hebrew name Baruch, and substituting for it the Latin equi 
valent Benedict. Only once more in his lifetime do we hear 
anything of dealings with his family. Spinoza became en 
titled upon the death of his father to share the inheritance 
/with his two sisters. The sisters disputed his title, presum- 
I ably under the belief that an excommunicated heretic would 
I have no part in the estate of a faithful Israelite. Spinoza has 
left on record his opinion that in a state where just laws are 
in force it is not only the right of every citizen, but his duty 
towards the common weal, to resist injustice to himself, lest 
peradventure evil men should find profit in their evil-doing. 
In his own case, then, he acted on this principle : the civil 
law was just, whether on the high ground of indifference to 

mentioned by Rieuwertz, the publisher of the Opera Posthuma, to the German 
traveller Stolle as existing in MS. and having been in his possession. See 
Ginsberg s edition of the Ethics, p. 20. 

1 It is in Lucas, with confusion of time and circumstance, as usual. Colerus 
knows nothing of it, and Spinoza s tone of admiration and deference for the civil 
powers of his country (in the Tractatus Theologico- Politicus) is likewise against 
it. The precedent of Da Costa turns the scale in favour of giving it a place in 
the text. 


theological strife, or, as is more likely, because Judaism was 
only a tolerated religion ; and Spinoza s claim to share with 
his sisters was made good. But, having established his rights, 
he did not choose to take any material advantage by them. 
When the partition came to be effected he gave up to his 
sisters everything but one bed : qui etait en verite fort bon, 
says Colerus in the French version. 

Spinoza was now dependent on his own work for a liveli 
hood. In compliance with the Rabbinical precept whicl 
commands every man to learn some handicraft, and guided 
by his philosophical and scientific temper, he had acquirec 
the art of making and polishing lenses for optical instruments 
Perhaps a desire to imitate the example of Descartes, who 
had likewise made himself a practical optician, may have 
entered into Spinoza s motives. At this time his admiration 
of Descartes was probably at its height. The art enabled 
him to earn an income, slender indeed, but sufficient for his 
limited wants, and a reputation for skill and knowledge of 
optics which preceded his fame as a philosopher. The lenses 
made by him were sought after, and those left undisposed of 
at his death fetched a high price. It was as an opticianJ 
moreover, that he made the acquaintance of Huygens and) 
Leibnitz. In 1671 Leibnitz wrote to consult him on certain 
optical questions, and his letter addresses Spinoza as a critic 
of recognized authority. It was believed by Spinoza s friends 
that but for his early death he would have made some con 
siderable contribution to the science; as it was, the only 
work of that kind which he completed was a small treatise on 
the Rainbow, long supposed to have been lost. It was in 
truth published at the Hague in 1687, and has been found 
and reprinted in our own time by Dr. Van Vloten. 1 We are 
also told that Spinoza had formed the plan of writing a 
concise treatise on Algebra ( breviori et magis intelligibili 
methodo ), and other unspecified works. 

1 The original copy, believed to b< unique, is in the Royal Library at the Hague. 


It appears that Spinoza stayed with his Remonstrant friend 
till the end of 1660 or beginning of 1 66 1, when they removed 
together to the village of Rijnsburg, near Leyden,then the head 
quarters of the sect. The house where they lived is still stand 
ing, and .the road bears to this day the name of Spinoza Lane. 
The Remonstrants were by this time practically tolerated, 
but had no regular clergy or public ministrations. There 
could therefore be no outward evidence that a person living 
among them, and not being a member of any other religious 
community, was not one of themselves. Hence the report 
that Spinoza had become a Christian would very naturally 
arise. It gained currency enough to be thought by Colerus 
worth an express contradiction. 

The meagre information given by Colerus and others 
of the philosopher s movements and occupations in after years 
is partly filled in by his letters, of which we possess only the 
selection made, unhappily with a far too sparing hand, by 
the editors of his posthumous works, and a few more which 
have been discovered in the orphan asylum at Amsterdam 
formerly belonging to the Collegiants. Spinoza paid frequent 
visits to the Hague, where he became well known in the 
society of men of letters ; and it is clear that as time went 
on he found more and more content in his entertainment 
there, for in 1664 he moved again to Voorburg, which is 
a suburb of the Hague, and in 1670 to the Hague itself, 
where he spent the rest of his life. 

In 1663 we find that Spinoza had already sketched out 
some of the leading ideas of his metaphysical system, sub 
stantially in the same form in which they eventually appeared 
in the Opera Posthuma, and had entrusted his papers to a 
number of his younger friends at Amsterdam. They had 
formed a sort of philosophical club, 1 at whose meetings the 

1 Perhaps a section or offshoot of the society Nil volentibus arduum (it was and 
is the practice in Holland for the motto of a society to be used as the name of the 
society itself), of which Dr. L. Meyer is known to have been an active member. 
(Van Vloten, Bened. de Spinoza, p. 29. ) 


members took it in turns to read out and comment on 
Spinoza s manuscript. If after discussion any point re 
mained obscure, a note was made of the difficulty, and one of 
the company would write to Spinoza for explanation. Such 
a letter is extant, written by Sjmonjde_yries, a young student 
of medicine, and of much pr^rr^eT^Ho had conceived for 
Spinoza an intellectual attachment which grew into a warm 
friendship. He would willingly have shown his gratitude to 
his master by substantial benefactions ; we are told of a gift 
of 2000 florins offered by him to Spinoza and declined. 

Spinoza s life, as we shall see, was not a robust one ; but 
that of his young disciple seems to have been yet frailer, for 
he died in Spinoza s lifetime, and not so unexpectedly but 
that he had time to form the design of making Spinoza his 
heir, and to be dissuaded from it by his friend s own entreaties. 
De Vries had a brother living, and Spinoza pressed upon him 
the duty of thinking first of his own kindred. The master 
prevailed with the disciple against his own interest, and the 
bulk of the estate was left by De Vries to his brother, charged 
however with a sufficient annuity for Spinoza s maintenance. 
Even this was accepted only in part. The heir offered to fix 
the amount at 500 florins ; but Spinoza pretended that it wa 
too much, and refused to take more than 300. De Vrics s 
letter to Spinoza shows all the generous enthusiasm of a 
learner in presence of a beloved teacher. 

1 have long desired, he says, an occasion to be with you, but 
weather and the hard winter have not allowed me. Sometimes I 
complain of my fate in being removed from you by a distance that 
keeps us so much apart. Happy, most happy, is that companion whc 
dwells with you under the same roof, and who can at all times, dining, 
supping, or walking, hold discourse with you of the most excellent 
matters. But though we are so widely separated in the body, yet you 
have constantly been present to my mind, especially when I apply 
myself to your writings. 

Spinoza s answer approves the plan of the society, and 


gives the desired explanations. To De Vries s complaint of 
their long separation he replies as follows : 

Your long continued absence has been no less disagreeable to 
me than to you ; but meanwhile I am glad that my exercises (lucubra- 
tiunculae] are of use to you and our friends. For thus I speak, with 
you while we are away from one another. As to my fellow-lodger, 
you need not envy hirq. There is no one I like less, or with whom I 
have been more cautious . so that I must warn you and all our 
friends not to communicate my opinions to him till he has come to 
riper years. He is still too childish and inconstant, and cares for 
novelty more than truth. Yet I hope he will amend these youthful 
failings some years hence ; indeed I am nearly sure of it, so far as I 
can judge from his disposition ; and so his general character moves 
me to be friendly with him. 

It appears that Spinoza s expectations of this young man 
were too sanguine. He is identified by plausible conjecture 
with one Albert Burgh, who many years afterwards was re 
ceived into the Church of Rome, and on that occasion 
favoured Spinoza with an extraordinary letter, of which a 
specimen will come before us hereafter. 

A solitary letter of 1665 containing some personal details 
has been lately discovered, 1 An allusion to the fleet then 
fitting out against England, and the mention of a journey of 
Spinoza s to Amsterdam, of which we have other indications, 
fix the date towards the end of May, or in the first days of 
June. The person addressed is supposed to be the J. B., 
to whom a letter of the following year (Ep. 42) was written, 
and who is identified with the Dr. J. Bresser mentioned else 
where in Spinoza s correspondence. Spinoza complains of 
having missed him both when he went to Amsterdam and 
when he came back to Voorburg. He then begs his friend 
to be diligent in philosophy while he is young and has time, 
and not to be afraid of writing to him freely. 

* I have before now suspected, and I am pretty sure, that you 

1 Ep 423. Van Vloten, Suppl. p. 303. 


have some unreasonable distrust of your own parts, and fear to ask 
or propound something unworthy of a scholar. It is not fit for me 
to praise your talents to your face ; but if you fear my showing your 
letters to others who may ridicule you, I give you my promise on 
this point that I will scrupulously keep them, and will communicate 
them to no mortal, unless with your leave. On these terms you may 
begin your correspondence with me, unless indeed you doubt my 
good faith, which I do not suppose possible. I trust to hear your 
opinion of the matter by your first letter, and to have with it some of 
the conserve of red roses, as you promised, though I am now much 
better. After I left this [for Amsterdam] I once let myself blood, 
yet the fever did not cease (though I was somewhat brisker even 
before the blood-letting, I think by the change of air), but I was 
twice or thrice troubled with a tertian ; but by dint of good diet at 
last I drove it out and sent it packing ; where it has gone I know 
not, but I am taking care that it shall not come back. 

He then promises to send the third part of my philo 
sophy, or a considerable part of it, as far as the 8oth proposi 
tion or thereabouts. As the third part of the Ethics, as it 
now stands, contains nothing like that number, the third and 
fourth parts must in the first draft have formed but one. 
He ends by asking for news of the fleet. 

This is the only letter preserved to us in which Spinoza 
says anything about himself as distinct from his works, and it 
is preserved only by chance : the editors of the Opera Post- 
huma, adhering rigidly to the principle of selecting only what 
illustrated the philosophy, had put it aside as of no value. l 
Ten years later we hear of Dr. Bresser as returned to Amster 
dam from a journey to Cleves, and having brought a cask of 
beer as a present for Spinoza. 2 

Another constant friend of Spinoza s was Henry Olden 
burg, well known in the scientific history of England as the 
first secretary of the Royal Society and the intimate friend of 
Robert Boyle. He had settled in this country, where he spent 
the best part of his life, in 1653 ; and in the course of a 

1 Adscripserunt enim : is van geender waarde. (Van Vloten, /. c.} 

2 Ep. 65a, Supp. p. 316. 


journey on the Continent he visited Spinoza at Rijnsburg and 
formed an acquaintance with him, which, though opportunities 
of meeting were few, was assiduously kept up by correspond 
ence. Oldenburg had, within discreet limits, a lively interest 
in philosophy, and in the earlier years of his intercourse with 
Spinoza was always pressing him not to keep back his know 
ledge from the world. In the same letter in which he informs 
Spinoza of the incorporation of the Royal Society, Oldenburg 
thus exhorts him to boldness : 

I would by all means advise you not to begrudge to men of 
letters the ripe fruits of your learning in philosophy and theology, but 
let them go forth into the world, whatever grumblings may proceed 
from petty theologians. Your commonwealth is most free, and 
therein the philosopher should work most freely. Your own prudence 
will counsel you to publish your thoughts and opinions with as little 
ostentation as may be ; I would have you, for the rest, commit the 
issue to fortune. Come, then, my friend, cast out all fear of stirring 
up against you the pigmies of our time ; too long have we made 
sacrifices to their ignorance and trifling scruples ; let us spread our 
sails to the wind of true knowledge, and search out the secrets of 
nature more thoroughly than has yet been done. In your country 
it will be safe, I should think, to print your reflections ; nor is any 
offence from them to be feared among men of learning. If such 
are your patrons and promoters and such, I answer for it, you will 
find why should you fear the detraction of the ignorant ? l 

Writing some little time afterwards, in the spring of 1663, 
Oldenburg presses Spinoza yet more urgently to complete his 
work then in hand. 

Permit me to ask you/ he says, whether you have finished that 
important essay in which you treat of the origin of things and their 
dependence from their first cause, as well as of the amendment of our 
understanding ? Surely, my excellent friend, I believe that nothing 
can be published more pleasant or acceptable to men of learn ing and 
discernment than such a treatise as yours. This is what a man of 
your wit and temper should regard, more than what pleases theo 
logians of the present age and fashion, for by them truth is less 


regarded than their own advantage. I adjure you, therefore, by the 
bond of our friendship, by every duty of multiplying and spreading 
abroad the truth, not to withhold from us your writings on those 
subjects. But if there is any reason more grave than I perceive 
which hinders you from setting forth the work, I heartily beseech 
you to be at the pains to give me a summary of it by letter ; and 
by this service you shall know that you have earned a friend s 
gratitude. l 

In the following letters these requests and exhortations 
are repeated in even stronger terms. We collect that Olden 
burg had some knowledge, though it was by no means exact, 
of the * Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, of the treatise * De 
Intellectus Emendatione, which was never finished, and has 
come down to us as a fragment, and perhaps of an early draft 
of the Ethics. Oldenburg s language seems to mix up the 
different works, and his later conduct still more plainly shows 
that he did not at this time know much of their contents. 

He was abundantly valiant in counsel before he had 
measured the risk ; but after the publication of the Tractatus 
Theologico-Politicus we find that his valour has all evaporated. 
In 1675, when Spinoza thought of publishing the Ethics, 
Oldenburg s talk was no longer of spreading all sail and 
defying the malice of theologians. Now he is all for caution 
and conformity ; he again invokes friendship, but this time to 
warn Spinoza against giving any sort of ground for attacks 
upon religion and virtue. Not that he refuses to take some 
copies of the book ; they may be consigned to a Dutch friend 
in London for him, and he can doubtless find purchasers for 
them ; but he would rather not have it talked about. And 
when he learnt from Spinoza that the publication was 
indefinitely put off, his expression of regret was, to say the 
least, but lukewarm. 2 

In the earlier days of which we are now speaking Olden 
burg was not unaided in his encouragement to Spinoza s 

5 Ep. 8. 2 Epp. 18-20. 


philosophical work. Boyle s name is joined once and again in 
his messages of greeting and exhortation, and considerable 
parts of these letters are taken up with communications on 
questions of chemistry and pneumatics, conveyed through 
Oldenburg, which amount in effect to a scientific correspond 
ence between Spinoza and Boyle. They obviously knew and 
esteemed one another s work ; but there is no trace of any 
more direct intercourse. 

The miseries of the great plague and of the war between 
England and Holland are brought before us by a letter of 
Oldenburg s in the autumn of 1665. He has no news yet of 
a book about which Spinoza had asked him, because the 
plague forbids almost all traffic ; besides which, this cruel war 
brings in its train a very Iliad of mischiefs, and is like to leave 
but little civility in the world. The public meetings of the 
Royal Society, he adds, are suspended by the danger of the 
times ; but the individual fellows are not unmindful of their 
quality, and pursue their experiments in private. Indeed 
meetings were shortly afterwards held at Oxford, whither 
several of the members had followed the Court. 1 But the war 
did not, for some time at least, interrupt the correspondence, 
nor abate Oldenburg s curiosity for information. 

In December 1665 he writes of a wide-spread report that 
the dispersed nation of Israel was about to return to its own 
country. The news not having been confirmed from Con 
stantinople, Oldenburg refuses credit to it, but would like to 
know how it has been received in the Jewish society of 
Amsterdam. The allusion is to the stir produced throughout 
the Jewish world by the impostor Sabbatai Zevi, of Smyrna, 
who proclaimed himself as the Messiah or something more, 
and obtained a large following not only in the Levant but in 
all the synagogues of Europe. In London the believers in 
his mission were testifying to their faith by laying heavy 
odds that Sabbatai Zevi would be the crowned and anointed 

1 Epp. i3a, 14. 


king of Jerusalem within two years. 1 But within an even 
shorter time, so far from being crowned at Jerusalem, he was 
a prisoner at Constantinople, and completed the discomfiture 
of those who had committed themselves to him by turning 
Mahometan : a step which, decisive as it seemed against his 
pretensions, was ineffectual to sober a certain number of 
enthusiasts. The delusion survived in various forms for at 
least two or three years longer. 2 One would give something 
to know what were Spinoza s reflections on seeing the ortho 
dox elders who had excommunicated him (for Isaac Aboab 
was carried away with the rest) fall an easy prey to a new 
heresy of the most gross and vulgar kind. But his answer to 
Oldenburg s inquiry is unluckily not preserved : we know not, 
indeed, if any answer were sent, for at this point there ensues a 
break of ten years in the correspondence of the two friends. 

In 1663 Spinoza published the only work to which he I 
ever set his name ; the origin of it is described by himself in 
one of his letters to Oldenburg. He had prepared a summary 
of the second part of Descartes Principles of Philosophy 
for the use of a pupil whom he did not choose to make fully 
acquainted with his own opinions, probably the young man 
of whom we have already heard. Certain of Spinoza s friends 
became curious about this manual, and desired him to treat 
the first part of Descartes work also in the same manner. 
This was done within a fortnight, and Spinoza was then 
urged to publish the book, which he readily agreed to do 
upon condition that one of his friends would revise the 
language, and write a preface explaining that the author did 
not agree with all the Cartesian doctrine set forth by him in 
the text. 

1 Gratz, x. 226, 229. 

2 And yet most of them affirm that Sabatai is not turn d Turk, but his 
Shadow only remains on Earth, and walks with a white Head, and in the habit of 
a Mahometan : But that his natural Body and Soul are taken into Heaven, 
there to reside until the time appointed for the accomplishment of these Wonders. 
The Counterfeit Messiah of the Jews at Smyrna, 1666 (in Two Journeys to 
Jerusalem, &c., collected by R. Burton, London, 1738). 


This task was undertaken by Dr. Meyer, and the book 
appeared at Amsterdam in the same year ; in the following 
one a Dutch translation was issued by the same publisher. 
The contents were the exposition of two parts of Des 
cartes Principles, a fragment of a third part, and an 
appendix of Metaphysical Reflections/ professedly written 
from a Cartesian point of view, but often giving signifi 
cant hints of the author s real divergence from Descartes. 
Spinoza took little trouble in the matter himself, and 
attached no value to the publication except as a means 
of preparing the way for more important things. On this 
opportunity, he writes to Oldenburg, we may find some 
persons, holding the highest places in my country meaning 
the De Witts, who certainly were among Spinoza s visitors at 
Rijnsburg and the Hague who will be anxious to see those 
other writings which I acknowledge for my own, and will 
therefore take such order that I can give them to the world 
without danger of any inconvenience. If it so happens, I doubt 
not that I shall soon publish something ; if not, I will rather 
hold my peace than thrust my opinions upon men against the 
will of my country and make enemies of them. The design 
of Spinoza and his friends was but partly effected. The book 
on Descartes excited considerable attention and interest, but 
the untoward course of public events in succeeding years was 
unfavourable to a liberal policy, and deprived Spinoza of the 
support for which he had looked. 

We may here make a note in passing of two facts which 

are established by this exposition of Descartes, and which have 

been often overlooked. One is that if Spinoza had ever been 

a disciple of Descartes, he had completely ceased to be so by 

the time when he was giving lessons in philosophy to Albert 

Burgh. The other is that he did not suppose the geometrical 

1 form of statement and argument to be an infallible method of 

1 arriving at philosophical truth ; for in this work he made use 

!of it to set forth opinions with which he himself did not agree, 


and proofs with which he was not satisfied. We do not know 
to what extent Spinoza s manual was accepted or taken 
into use by Cartesians, but its accuracy as an exposition of 
Descartes is beyond question. One of the many perverse 
criticisms made on Spinoza by modern writers is that he did 
not understand the fundamental proposition cogito ergo sum. 1 
In fact he gives precisely the same explanation of it that is 
given by Descartes himself in the Meditations. 

The next notable event in Spinoza s life is the publica 
tion of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus : the full title, as 
Englished by an early translator (1689), runs thus : 

A treatise partly theological and partly political, con 
taining some few discourses to prove that the liberty of phi-j 
losophizing (that is, making use of natural reason) may be 
allowed without any prejudice to piety, or to the peace of 
any commonwealth ; and that the loss of public peace and 
religion itself must necessarily follow, where such a liberty 
of reasoning is taken away. 

The scope of the book is political and practical, not */ 
speculative. The final thesis to which all its apparatus of 
criticism leads up is that in a free commonwealth it should^ 
be lawful for every man to think what he will and speak what 
he thinks : a proposition which, with due reservations in 
behalf of decency and civil order and the reservations were 
in no wise neglected by Spinoza has now become common 
learning for the greater part of the civilized world. It looks 
to our modern eyes infinitely less bold than the arguments 
by which Spinoza maintained it. In order to gain his desired 
foundation for the freedom of speculative opinion, he plunges 
into an investigation of the nature of prophecy, the principles 
of Scriptural interpretation, and the true provinces of theology 
and philosophy, anticipating with wonderful grasp and insight 
almost every principle, and not a few of the results, of the 

1 Foucher de Careil, Leibniz, Descartes, et Spinoza, Paris, 1862, p. 75 : il n a 
jamais compris le cogito ergo sum. 


school of historical criticism which has arisen within the last 
two or three generations ; a school which, through Lessing 
and his circle, is connected by direct descent with Spinoza. 
Taking the whole contents of the treatise together, we 
cannot be surprised that even in the United Provinces, then 
the freest country in the world, it was thought needful to 
issue it without the name of the author and with that of 
a fictitious printer at Hamburg. The tone and form are 
conciliatory, but with the kind of high-handed conciliation 
that exasperates. Much hard hitting will be taken without 
complaint in downright argument ; but few men can endure 
to be confuted from their own premisses by an adversary who 
never fully shows his hand. It is more tolerable for a dog 
matist to be confronted with novelties in speculative opinion 
than to be told that speculative opinions are in themselves 
indifferent ; and the truth that conduct does not depend on 
speculation, though exemplified abundantly by all generations 
of men, is still unfamiliar and unwelcome to most of us. It 
is just to this unwelcome truth that Spinoza bears a testi 
mony of unsurpassed power in the Tractatus Theologico- 
Politicus ; but if anything more were needed to explain the 
storm of polemic that burst upon him, there is yet more to 
come. We have said that Spinoza does not omit the neces 
sary reservations in favour of the civil power ; we must add 
that he makes them not only freely but amply, so amply that 
he has been charged by some of his modern censors with 
going about to deify mere brute force. He appeals, more 
over, from the Churches to the State, as representing the 
worldly common sense of the lay mind. He looks to an 
enlightened civil magistrate to deliver men from the barren 
clamour of anathemas, almost as an Indian heretic vexed by 
the Brahmans may look to the impartial secular arm of the 
British Government. This is the conclusion of the whole 
matter for him ; a fervent appeal to the State to save us from 
the untoward generation of metaphysical Article-makers ; 


so Mr. Arnold sums it up in his admirable essay. 1 If the 
English translator had been minded to give the book a 
second title, after the manner of English controversialists of 
that day, he might fairly have called it Erastianism not 
Unscriptural. Now it is a great error to suppose that the 
metaphysical Article-makers are stupider undiscerning people. 
Whatever qualities may be desirable in those who are to 
believe articles after they are made, a great deal of energy 
and acuteness have gone to the making of them ; and the 
faculties thus employed are, as a rule, very sufficient to 
perceive the drift of any new ideas that may imperil their 
finished handiwork. In 1670 the generation of Article-makers 
was mighty in the Netherlands, and still pretty fresh from 
its great exercise at the Synod of Dort. It was fully on 
the alert, and lost no time in showing itself equal to the 
occasion. And the occasion was no common one, for the 
attack was not only powerful, but vital. If there is anything 
that ecclesiastical dogmatists of all parties are united in 
hating with a perfect hatred, it is the Erastian view of the 
relation of the State to religious differences. 

Spinoza probably never disguised from himself the oppo 
sition he would have to encounter. In 1671 he wrote thus to 
his friend Jarig Jellis : 

* When Professor N. N. [Wittichius ?} 2 lately saw me, he told 
me, among other things, how he had heard of my Theologico- 
political treatise being translated into Dutch, and that a person whose 
name he did not know was on the point of printing the translation. 
I therefore earnestly entreat you to inquire diligently into the matter, 
and stop the printing if it can be done. This request is not fronTme 
alone, but also from many of my friends and acquaintance, who 
would be sorry to see the book prohibited, as it certainly will be if it 
appears in Dutch. 

It seems that Spinoza s wishes were attended to, for no 

1 Spinoza and the Bible, in Essays in Criticism. 

2 Van Vloten, Bened, de Spinoza, p. 81, note. 



Dutch version appeared until 1693,* some years after an 
English one had been published in London. But the Synods 
were already up in arms, and in the spring of 1671 addressed 
a solemn complaint to the States-General concerning the 
printing and publishing of divers Socinian and blasphemous 
books, to wit, the books called "Bibliotheca Patrum Polonorum 
quos unitarios vocant," the famous book of Hobbes called 
" Leviathan," and moreover the book entitled " Philosophia 
Sacrae Scripturae interpres," 2 as well as that called " Tractatus 
Theologico-Politicus. " In 1674 effect was given to this by 
a formal prohibition of the book, which, either in anticipation 
of such a measure, or in order to obtain a sale in Catholic 
countries, had already been issued in a second edition with 
various false title-pages, as of works on medicine or history. 3 
Rome was not far behind the Reformed churches in dili 
gence. The Tractatus Theologico-Politicus was ere long put 
on the Index, and it still holds its place in the strangely mixed 
company of that catalogue with many of the best and some 
of the worst books of the world. But the celebrity which came 
to Spinoza by reason of this publication was not altogether of 
a disagreeable kind even in official quarters. When his treatise 
had been some three years before the world he received an 
invitation to the Chair of Philosophy at Heidelberg, written 
by Professor Fabritius at the command of the Elector Pala 
tine Charles Lewis, and couched in the most honourable 
terms. The only hint of a restriction was in the following 
sentence: You will have the largest freedom of speech in 
philosophy, which the prince is confident that you will not 
misuse to disturb the established religion. Now it is hardly 
possible to suppose that the Elector and his advisers were 
unacquainted with the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus ; and 
if they were acquainted with its general purport, one is 

1 Bibliografie, No. 17. 

2 This was for a time erroneously attributed to Spinoza. 

3 Bibliografie, Nos. 4-7. See Appendix B for the text of the ordinance. 


tempted to suspect that a phrase of such very mild caution 
may have been inserted only as a matter of form ; especially 
when we remember that established religion, as such, is 
treated by Spinoza with great respect in the treatise itself. 
The test seems almost framed to invite evasion. 

But even the semblance of evasion was repugnant to 
Spinoza s ideal of intellectual truthfulness. He answered the 
invitation thus : 

Had it ever been my desire to occupy a chair in any faculty, I 
could have wished for no other than that which the Most Serene 
Elector Palatine offers me by your hands ; and especially on account 
of that freedom in philosophy which the prince is pleased to grant, to 
say nothing of the desire I have long entertained to live under the 
rule of a prince whose wisdom is the admiration of all men. But 
since I have never been minded to give public lectures, I cannot 
persuade myself to accept even this splendid opportunity, though I 
have given long consideration to it. For I reflect, in the first place, 
that I must give up philosophical research if I am to find time for 
teaching a class. I reflect, moreover, that I cannot tell within what 
bounds I ought to confine that philosophical freedom you mention 
in order to escape any charge of attempting to disturb the established 
religion. Religious dissensions arise not so much from the ardour of 
men s zeal for religion itself as from their various dispositions and 
love of contradiction, which leads them into a habit of decrying and 
condemning everything, however justly it be said. Of this I have 
already had experience in my private and solitary life ; much more, 
then, should I have to fear it after mounting to this honourable con 
dition. You see, therefore, that I am not holding back in the hope 
of some better post, but for mere love of quietness, which I think I 
can in some measure secure if I abstain from lecturing in public. 
Wherefore I heartily beseech you to desire the Most Serene Elector 
that I may be allowed to consider further of this matter. l 

The call to Heidelberg was in 1673. We have anticipated 
the order of events to keep the philosophic side of Spinoza s 
life distinct from the one point at which it was visibly touched 
by the turmoil of public affairs. The misfortunes of the Nether- 

Ep. 54. 


lands in 1672 are the property of general history. Then took 
place the sudden and overwhelming invasion in which the 
king of France came down to Utrecht like a land flood ; l and 
this war of insolent aggression, so far from uniting all parties in 
resistance to the enemy, bred in the Commonwealth a passion 
of panic that let loose the worst excesses of domestic faction. 
The brothers De Witt, after lives spent in the service of their 
country, were massacred by a frantic mob at the Hague. 
Spinoza had been the friend of John de Witt ; he had 
accepted a small pension from him, and is said to have been 
consulted by him in affairs of State. It was not common 
with Spinoza to be visibly disturbed or angry, but by this 
event he was moved as by no other in his life. So much was 
his wonted self-control shaken that he was hardly restrained 
from expressing his indignation in public at the risk of his 
life. 2 He was shortly afterwards, as it fell out, to be exposed 
to a similar risk, and for a not dissimilar cause.. While the 
headquarters of the French army were at Utrecht the Prince 
of Conde, then in command of it, invited Spinoza to visit him. 
There is no reason to suppose any other motive than a genuine 
desire to make the philosopher s acquaintance, still less to ima 
gine (as one or two writers have done) a secret political errand. 
Spinoza proceeded to Utrecht with a safe-conduct, but found 
that Coride had been in the meantime called away. He waited 
some days, but Conde s absence was prolonged, and he finally 
returned to the Hague without having seen him. The French 
officers who entertained Spinoza suggested that if he would 
dedicate some work to Louis XIV. he might probably count 
upon a pension ; but the proposal fell upon deaf ears. A man 

1 Burnet, i. 321. 

2 This was communicated by Spinoza himself to Leibnitz. J ay passe 
quelques heures apres diner avec Spinoza ; il me dit qu il avait este porte, le jour 
des massacres de MM. de Witt, de sortir la nuit et d afficher quelque part, proche 
du lieu, un papier oil il y aurait ttltimi barbarorum. Mais son hote luy avait ferme 
la maison pour Pempecher de sortir, car il se serait expose aetre dechire. MS. 
note of Leibnitz, ap. Foucher de Careil, Leibniz, Descartes, et Spinoza, p. 74. 


who could scarcely be prevailed on to accept favours from his 
friends at home was not likely to sell the reputation of 
patronizing him to the ruler of a hostile country. But at the 
Hague, men s minds being still in a ferment, sinister rumours 
about Spinoza s journey had got abroad ; and he found him 
self on his return the object of the most alarming and most 
insidious charge that can fall upon a citizen in time of war. 
The landlord feared an assault, if not the sack of the house, 
from the populace among whom these reports were passing, 
and who might at any moment resolve to lay violent hands 
upon Spinoza as a French spy. 

Spinoza, however, comforted his host with these words : 
Fear nothing on my account ; I can easily justify myself ; 
there are people enough, and of chief men in the country too, 
who well know the motives of my journey. But, whatever 
comes of it, so soon as the crowd make the least noise at your 
door, I will go out and make straight for them, though they 
should serve me as they have done the unhappy De Witts. I 
am a good republican, and have never had any aim but the 
honour and welfare of the State. 

The danger passed off; but Spinoza s conduct under it is 
none the less worthy of admiration, for it was unquestionably a 
very serious one. Even in our own times, notably in France 
during the war of 1870, many innocent persons have been in 
imminent peril, or have actually lost their lives, on far slighter 
circumstances of supposed evidence than appeared in this 
case. The incident also has its value in the light it throws on 
the general esteem in which Spinoza then stood. For the con 
sciousness, not merely of an innocent purpose, but of a cha 
racter above the possibility of rational suspicion, was necessary 
to make his visit to the French headquarters prudent or 
justifiable ; and the authorities of his own country would 
assuredly never have consented to it had they not felt 
absolute confidence that the public good would in no way 
suffer by it. It is indeed almost surprising that Spinoza, a 


known friend of John de Witt, was in the existing state of 
affairs allowed to go to the French camp at all. 

Meanwhile Spinoza had been working at the Ethics, and 
before the end of 1674 manuscript copies of the finished work 
were in the hands of some of his friends. 1 About the end of 
July 1675 he made an excursion to Amsterdam in order to 
arrange for the publication of the book. What befell him there 
is best told in the words of his own letter to Oldenburg. 

1 While I was busy with this, the report was spread everywhere 
that a certain book of mine was in the press, wherein I endeavoured 
to show that there was no God ; and this report found credence with 
many. Whereupon certain theologians (themselves perhaps the authors 
of it) took occasion to complain of me to the prince and the magis 
trates ; moreover the stupid Cartesians, being supposed to side with 
me and desiring to free themselves from that suspicion, were diligent 
without ceasing in their execration of my doctrines and writings, and 
are as diligent still. Having knowledge of these matters from trust 
worthy persons, who likewise told me that the theologians were laying 
plots against me on all sides, I determined to put off the publication 
until I could see the issue of the affair, and then to signify my designs 
to you. But the business inclines, as it seems, to the worse from day 
to day, and I know not yet what I shall do. 

The result was that nothing more was done in Spinoza s 
lifetime. He had shown that he could endure much in silence 
rather than barter a jot of his freedom, but he did not choose 
to be vexed with the petty warfare of clerical controversy ; 
he must have felt the assurance that his work would live, and 
that a few years sooner or later in the date of its appearance 
would be indifferent. Can he have surmised that the few 
years by which the publication was postponed would be a 
mere fraction in comparison with the time during which his 
thoughts were in the world but not perceived by it, misunder 
stood by those who took notice of them, and unheeded by 
those who might have understood ? Can he have even dreamt 

* Epp. 63, 66. 


of the splendour with which his work was to shine forth to a 
newer world after the period of eclipse, giving up its hidden 
treasures of light and vital fire to inform the philosophy and 
poetry of a mighty nation ? Such fame as Spinoza s is the 
reward only of those who are above fame in their lives. 

Spinoza had now but little more of life before him. For 
many years he had suffered from consumption, aggravated per 
haps by his work of glass-polishing. On Sunday, February 21, 
1677, the end came unexpectedly, and almost suddenly. 
Spinoza had indeed sent to Amsterdam for his friend and 
physician Lewis Meyer ; but on the Saturday he had spent the 
afternoon in talk with his hosts as usual ; and on the Sunday 
he came down again in the morning, and spoke with them 
before they went to hear Dr. Cordes, Colerus s predecessor in 
the Lutheran church at the Hague. They were so far from 
any immediate apprehensions that they went out again in the 
afternoon, leaving him alone with Meyer. When they came 
home they found, to their surprise, that Spinoza was no longer 
alive. Dr. Meyer, the only person who was with him at the 
last, returned forthwith to Amsterdam. He is charged by 
Colerus with neglect of duty and rapacity ; or rather, in plain 
terms, with making booty of a silver-handled knife and the 
loose money in the room. But this is so grossly improbable 
that we can only disregard it. Colerus may have not been 
sorry to compensate himself for the admiration his native 
honesty compelled him to yield to Spinoza s character by 
giving currency to a piece of malignant gossip about a friend 
of Spinoza s, known or suspected to share Spinoza s opinions, 
and who, as a person only coming incidentally into the story, 
had no particular claim to be treated with justice. But credit 
must be given to Colerus, on the other hand, for his downright 
contradiction of the tales concerning Spinoza s death-bed 
which were circulated, it would seem, by persons who thought 
it would tend to edification to represent Spinoza as the blus 
tering infidel of popular orthodox polemics, who is invariably 


assailed by doubt and disquietude- in his last moments, and 
as invariably strives to disguise them with feeble bravado. 1 
Colerus very honestly says that the people of the house, whom 
he more than once questioned, knew nothing of any such 
matters, and did not believe a word of them. 

Spinoza left behind him but a scanty estate : some thirty 
or forty volumes, a few engravings, the tools of his trade, 
and a certain number of finished lenses ; which last, we are 
told, fetched a good price ; besides these a modest list of per 
sonal effects, carefully enumerated by Colerus, and in all so 
little more than would cover debts and expenses that the sur 
viving sister Rebekah, who at first was disposed to assert her 
rights, concluded that the inheritance was not worth having. 
Yet Spinoza had one precious legacy to dispose of the desk 
containing his letters and unpublished work. Van der Spijck 
had been charged to convey this after Spinoza s death to Jan 
Rieuwertz, a publisher at Amsterdam. The trust was faithfully 
executed, and the Opera Ppsthuma appeared in the course 
of the same year, but without the author s full name. The 
editors preface explains that this was by his own request. 

* The writer s name/ they say, is expressed on the title-page and 
elsewhere only by his initials ; which is done for no other reason 
than that, shortly before his death, he specially desired that his name 
should not be prefixed to his Ethics, while he directed the printing of 
them. The only reason for this prohibition was, as we think, that he 
chose not that his doctrine should be called after his name. For he 
says in the Appendix to the fourth part of the Ethics, cap. 25, that 
they who desire to aid others by counsel or deed to the common 
enjoyment of the chief good shall in no wise endeavour themselves 
that a doctrine be called after their name. Moreover in the third 
part of the Ethics, in the nth definition of the Passions, where he 
explains the nature of ambition, he plainly charges with vain -glory 
those who do after this sort. 

In the following year the States of Holland and West 

1 One of these stories is circumstantially repeated by Bayle, Pensees Diverses, 
181, Vanite de Spinoza a 1 heure de mort. 


Friesland, being satisfied that, the book entitled B. D. S. 
Opera Posthuma labefactated various essential articles of 
the faith and < vilipended the authority of miracles, expressed 
the highest indignation at the disseminating thereof, declared 
it profane, atheistic, and blasphemous, and forbad printing, 
selling, and dealing in it, on pain of their high displeasure. 1 

The framers of this well-meant enactment earned a per 
manent remembrance for their work, but not quite as they 
desired. Instead of their ordinance extinguishing Spinoza s 
Ethics, the Ethics have preserved the memory of the 

It remains to say something of Spinoza s manner of daily 
life and outward habit ; which however, as we know them 
almost entirely through Colerus s account, so they are pre 
sented by Colerus with a kind of simple quaintness more 
impressive than any studied description can be. The 
effect of those particulars which we possess is to show us a 
man who was led to a retired life by choice and circum 
stance, not by ostentation ; to an almost incredible frugality 
by reasons of health and economy, not by ascetic pride ; who 
could be freespoken and of good will towards all sorts of men, 
but would be dependent on none. His living and diet were 
of the simplest, his expenses amounting sometimes only to a 
few pence for the whole day. But he kept down his expenses 
in this manner chiefly, if not wholly, in order to keep them 
within his means ; just making both ends meet, as he would 
say of himself, like a snake with its tail in its mouth. And 
his means remained slender to the last because he did not 
choose to live on patronage, and the studies to which he 
devoted the best of his mind had even less bread-winning virtue 
then than they have now. It is reported that Spinoza, on hear 
ing that a man who owed him 200 florins had become bankrupt, 
said with a smile, I must retrench my allowance to make 

1 June 25, 1678. Groot Placaet Boek, ^de deel, p. 525 : Bibliografie, 
No. 24. 


up for this little matter ; at this price one buys equanimity. l 
But the story seems doubtful. 

Again, Spinoza lived in a retirement which at times 
might be called solitude ; when absorbed in work he would 
hardly leave his chamber for many days together ; once he 
did not leave the house for three months. 2 But if on these 
occasions he chose to be alone, it was not that he loved 
solitude for its own sake. He had none of the shallow pride 
and arrogance which fancies that the way to show superior 
knowledge is to disdain the common intercourse of mankind. 
There was no touch of misanthropy in the retirement from the 
world which he imposed upon himself. Besides keeping up 
a not inconsiderable correspondence, Spinoza visited and was 
visited by not a few men of letters and learning ; there was 
a time, as we gather from his own statements, when their 
civilities left him few hours to call his own. 

Nor did he limit his converse to scholars : he knew how 
to win the esteem and affection of the simple folk of the 
household where he dwelt, an esteem which, as M. Renan has 
well said, is in truth the most precious of all. He talked 
freely and familiarly with his hosts the Van der Spijcks, and 
would counsel their children to good behaviour and obedience. 
He discussed with them the sermons of Dr. Cordes, the 
Lutheran pastor who preceded Spinoza s biographer Colerus 
in the charge of the Lutheran congregation at the Hague, 
and recommended them to give all attention to the discourses 
of so excellent a teacher. Bold as he was in speculative 
thought, and detached in his own person from all sects and 
doctrines, Spinoza was no furious iconoclast in private life. 

1 This anecdote is only in Lucas, and as given by him has a slightly theatrical 
air. He adds a sort of apologetic explanation : Je ne rapporte pas cette action 
comme quelque chose d eclatant, mais comme il n y a rien en quoi le genie paraisse 
davantage qu en ces sortes de petites choses, je n ai pu 1 omettre sans scrupule. 
I cannot but suspect that the turn of the saying at least is borrowed from Epictetus 
{Man. c. 12, 2), ciri\fyf OTI roffovrov ira}\ irai airdOeia, roffovrov 
CLT apa^ia. 

2 Pref. to Opera Posthnma. 


He did not seek to make nominal proselytes who would have 
been neither the wiser nor the happier for their conversion, 
and when the good woman of the house attacked him with a 
point-blank question as to the sufficiency of her religion for 
salvation, he answered that her religion was good if it led her 
to a good life, and she had no need to seek further. 

But the strength of Spinoza s social feelings, and the 
importance he attached to fellowship among men as the only 
means by which man can live a life worthy of his nature, 
are most evidently shown in his Ethics ; and the ideal of 
human life which he there sets forth, and to which he himself 
was faithful in action, will com,e under our notice when we 
endeavour to obtain a view of his philosophy. 




Treu dem Gesetz und treu 

Dir selbst so bleibst du frei. PROVERB. 

He that feeds men serve th few ; 

He serves all who dares be true. EMERSON. 

WE have already made use of some of Spinoza s letters in 
order to supplement the rather meagre outlines of his bio 
graphy which we possess from other sources. Hereafter we 
shall have to refer to others as containing important passages 
of authentic commentary on his philosophy. But we have a 
certain number of an intermediate character, which, while 
their interest is literary and speculative rather than personal, 
yet lie outside the main lines of Spinoza s systematic thought. 
They contain much that is curious in itself, and much that is 
useful as an introduction to Spinoza s general manner of 
thinking and discussion ; and we may find it worth while to 
dwell a little upon them before we finally quit the ground of 
biography and enter upon that of criticism. It is pleasant to 
linger in a borderland where speculation is still relieved by per 
sonal incidents. Of Spinoza s correspondence with Oldenburg 
and De Vries we have already seen something : what remains in 
those quarters is of strictly philosophical interest. Another 
friend of Spinoza who must have been in constant intercourse 
with him was Dr. Lewis Meyer, who undertook the publica 
tion of the Principles of Cartesian Philosophy, and was after- 



wards joint editor of the Opera Posthuma. What has 
become of the letters which passed between these two ? At 
present, unfortunately, the answer is that we have one, and 
only one, preserved in the Opera Posthuma, this being an 
answer to a letter of Meyer s, probably written on behalf of 
the philosophical club at Amsterdam, and asking Spinoza for 
the result of his speculations on the Infinite. Here, again, we 
must leave the contents for the present untouched, only re 
marking the comparatively early date (1663) of the letter. 
It belongs to the Rijnsburg time, and shows, together with 
the letters to De Vries, that the groundwork at least of 
Spinoza s system as we now have it was by that time fully 

Oldenburg, Meyer, and De Vries naturally wrote, as 
scholars, in Latin (De Vries not without a touch of Batavism), 
and Spinoza replied to them in the same language, writing 
carefully, and even indulging in purisms : he will not put the 
scholastic form essendi before Meyer without an apology. 1 
But there were other less learned correspondents who pre 
ferred the vernacular. 

The originals of their letters are apparently preserved 
in the Dutch version of the Opera Posthuma, which was pub 
lished almost simultaneously with the Latin text. But with 
Spinoza s own replies to them it is not so. Two of Spinoza s 
Dutch letters are preserved as he wrote them, and the editors 
of the Nagelate Schriften found it necessary to make con 
siderable amendments in their composition. In one of them 
Spinoza expressly apologizes for not being perfect in the 
language. There is some reason to think the Latin versions 
of the letters originally sent in Dutch were prepared for pub 
lication by Spinoza himself. 2 

The lion s share of the miscellaneous correspondence, in 

1 Infinitam essendi sive (invita Latinitate) essendi fruitionem. Ep. 29. 

2 See Prof. Land s paper, Over de eerste tiitgaven der brieven -van Spinoza, 
Amsterdam, 1879 ; and Appendix C below. 


point of bulk at least, belongs to William van Blyenbergh, a 
worthy merchant and municipal officer of Dort, and a citizen 
of good family, who was mightily taken, by his own account, 
with Spinoza s Principles of Cartesian Philosophy. In 
December 1664 he wrote to Spinoza in these terms : 

* Dear Sir and unknown Friend, I have already had the pleasure 
of several times carefully reading over your treatise lately published, 
together with its Appendix. It will be more proper for rne to speak 
to others than to yourself of the exceeding solidity I found in it and 
of the pleasure I derived from it. This much I cannot forbear saying, 
that the oftener I go over it with attention, the more I am pleased 
with it ; and that I constantly find something which I had not 
marked before. 

He proceeds to enlarge (in a style much improved by the 
Latin translation) on his sincere love of philosophic truth as 
the only thing deserving of affection in this transitory life, on 
his admiration for the knowledge and philosophic felicity 
shown in Spinoza s work, and his desire to make the personal 
acquaintance of a man so favoured, and on his disappoint 
ment in having been prevented, by various causes, from intro 
ducing himself to Spinoza face to face instead of by letter. 
He had meant only to ask, in a preliminary way, whether he 
might trouble Spinoza with some of his difficulties ; but, not 
to leave the letter quite empty, he states one of them forth 
with, which concerns the question of creation, especially as 
bearing on the origin of evil. If, according to what is said in 
various places by Spinoza, both in his exposition of Descartes 
and in his own commentary, God is the immediate cause, not 
only of the existence of the human soul but of its particular 
operations, is not God the immediate cause of evil volitions, 
for example, the determination of Adam to eat the forbidden 
fruit ? Blyenbergh professes himself puzzled, but confidently 
awaits a satisfactory answer, and adds a sentence ominous of 
future garrulity : Be assured, dear sir, that I ask this for no 
other cause than desire for the truth, and have no particular 


interests ; I am unattached, dependent on no profession ; I 
live by honest merchandise, and spend my leisure on these 
subjects. I humbly pray you not to find my difficulties 

Spinoza seems to have thought from this first letter that 
Blyenbergh was a man of some real capacity, and that he 
had gained a valuable acquaintance. At any rate, he received 
his unknown correspondent with a warm welcome. 

Unknown Friend, From your letter I understand your exceed 
ing love of truth, and how that only is the aim of all your desires ; 
and since I direct my mind upon naught else, this constrains me to 
determine, not only fully to grant your request, which is to answer 
to the best of my skill the questions which you now send or shall 
send hereafter, but to perform all else on my part which may avail 
for our better acquaintance and sincere friendship. For myself, there 
is among things out of my own control none I prize more than 
entering into the bond of friendship with men who are sincere 
lovers of truth. For I believe that nothing in the world, not being 
under our own control, can be so securely taken for the object of our 
love as men of this temper ; since tis no more possible to dissolve 
that love they have for one another (seeing it is founded on the love 
each of them hath for the knowledge of truth) than not to embrace 
the truth itself when once perceived. This love is moreover the 
most perfect and delightful which can exist towards objects not in our 
control, since no other thing has such virtue as truth to unite men s 
minds and affections. I say nothing of the exceeding conveniences 
that spring from it, that I may no longer detain you with matters 
which you doubtless well know ; I have however done so thus far, 
the better to show how pleasant it is to me now, and will be in future, 
to find any occasion of doing you service/ 

He then takes up the question proposed by Blyenbergh. 
After observing that Blyenbergh has not defined his notion of 
evil, Spinoza declares that for his part he cannot allow that 
sin and evil have any positive reality, much less that anything 
happens contrary to God s will : nay, it is only an inexact 
and human fashion of speech to say that man can sin against 
or offend God. For every really existing thing, if we consider 


it apart from its relation to other things, is perfect as far as 
its existence goes (this equivalence of reality and perfection is 
one of the key-notes of Spinoza s metaphysic). Thus, taking 
Blyenbergh s example of Adam s determination to eat the 
forbidden fruit, there is no imperfection in the act as such. 
Approval or disapproval implies a standard of comparison ; 
we are simply amused by actions in animals which are the 
object of moral condemnation in men. Sin is a note of im 
perfection, and therefore something apart from the action 
itself, in so far as it partakes of or expresses reality. 

Again, we cannot say that Adam s will was evil inasmuch 
as it displeased God. For we cannot assume anything to 
happen against God s will without assuming imperfection in 
God, whose will, indeed, being coextensive with his under 
standing, an event against God s will could only be an event 
repugnant to the laws of understanding. Adam s determina 
tion, then, was not evil considered in itself, nor yet, strictly 
speaking, contrary to God s will ; and there is no difficulty in 
admitting God to have been the cause of it, so far as it was a 
real action. Its evil consisted in Adam s losing in consequence 
of it the state of perfection he enjoyed before. But loss is 
merely negative, and the conception of it a relative one which 
has no place in absolute intellect. Our notion of imperfection 
arises from an individual not conforming to the type of the 
class which we have obtained by a process of abstraction. 
But infinite intellect has no need of abstraction or definition, 
and therefore does not and cannot regard anything as imper 
fect. Everything is as real and as perfect as the divine power 
has made it : in other words, as perfect as it can be. We 
call things good or bad in their kinds ; but the divine intel 
lect sees everything as perfect in itself. 1 This Spinoza thinks 

1 Cf. Cogit. Met. pt. ii. c. 7, 4 : Quum ergo mala et peccata in rebus nihil 
sint, sed tantum in mente humana res inter se comparante, sequitur Deum ipsa 
extra mentes humanas non cognoscere. And 5 : .... Deo singularium 
cognitionem tribuimus, universalium denegamus, nisi quatenus mentes humanas 


a sufficient answer on speculative grounds ; but he goes on to 
the practical bearings of the matter. As to the language of the 
Scriptures, they speak in a popular, not a philosophic manner, 
ascribing to God anger, jealousy, and even liability to error. 
Thus the precept given to Adam consisted only in this, that 
God revealed to Adam that eating of that tree caused death ; 
just as God reveals to us through natural understanding that 
poison is deadly to us. If you ask for what purpose God 
revealed this to Adam, I answer, in order to make him to 
that extent more perfect in knowledge. l If you ask, 
again, why he did not give Adam a more perfect will, it is 
like asking why God has not endowed the circle with the 
properties of the sphere. 

Then as to the objection that if all men do the will of 
God, the wicked do it no less than the good : they do it in 
deed in their fashion, but their lot is nevertheless very 
different, Knowing not God, they serve him as a blind 
instrument in the workman s hand, which perishes in the 
using ; the righteous do their service with knowledge, and are 
made more perfect therein. 

The letter discloses only parts of Spinoza s ethical theory, 
and in language adapted to the assumptions of his questioner j 
but these parts are characteristic. Even in this form they 
may still seem daring to many readers, and Blyenbergh 
was entirely taken aback by them. Yet the leading idea of 
the letter namely, that the notions of good and evil are re 
lative, and have place only in finite intellects had been enun 
ciated centuries before by Maimonides. Observe also Spinoza s 
complete Nominalism, and the important practical use he 
makes of it against the anthropomorphic view of the govern 
ment of the world. 

Ten days later Blyenbergh replied in a very long epistle, 
the contents of which it is needless to state further than that 

1 Cf. Tract. Theol. -Polit. c. 4, 26, 27, where it is said that the revelation 
was a command or precept only in respect of Adam s imperfect knowledge. 



he repeats and enlarges on his objections. He protests that 
Spinoza s doctrine destroys all practical difference between 
right and wrong, and leaves no ground for preferring virtue 
to vice. As for desiring virtue for its own sake, human 
nature is far too weak for that. See what ground we give 
to all godless men and their impiety ! We make ourselves 
like stocks, and our actions no better than the works of a 
watch. Blyenbergh also explains to Spinoza at the begin 
ning of the letter that he has two rules wherewith to guide 
himself in philosophy, Reason and Scripture ; and that if the 
apparently clear conclusions of his reason differ from the re 
vealed word, he can only suppose that his reason is wrong. 1 

This disclosure was a surprise to Spinoza, who answered 
that on such conditions discussion would not be very profit 

When I read your first letter, I thought that our opinions pretty 
well agreed ; but from the second I understand it is quite otherwise, 
and perceive that we differ not only in the consequences that may be 
drawn from first principles, but also in the principles themselves ; in 
somuch that I can scarce believe that we shall be able to instruct 
one another further by letters. For I see that no demonstration, 
however firm it may be according to the laws of demonstration, may 
prevail with you unless it agree with the interpretation that you, or 
other theologians familiar to you, put upon Holy Writ. If you find 
the light of Scripture clearer than the light of reason (which also is 
given us by divine wisdom), you are doubtless right in your own 
conscience in making your reason yield. For my part, since I 
plainly confess that I do not understand the Scriptures, though I have 
spent many years upon them, and since I know that when once I 
have a firm proof I cannot by any course of thought come to doubt of 
it, I rest wholly upon that which my understanding commends to me, 
without any suspicion tha t I am deceived therein, or that the 
Scriptures, even though I do not search them, can speak against it. 
For one truth cannot conflict with another, as I have already clearly 
shown in my Appendix to the " Principles of Descartes " (I cannot give 
the chapter, as here in the country I have not the book by me). 2 

1 E P . 33. 

2 Cogit. Met, pt. ii. c. 8, 5. Veritas veritati non repugnat, nee scriptura 


But if in any case I did find error in that which I have collected from 
my natural understanding, I should count it good fortune, since I 
enjoy life, and endeavour to pass it not in weeping and sighing, but 
in peace, joy, and cheerfulness, and from time to time climb thereby 
a step higher. I know, meanwhile (which is the highest pleasure of 
all), that all things happen by the power and unchangeable decree of 
the most perfect Being. 

He then turns to the matter of Blyenbergh s objections, 
which depend on his way of regarding God in his relations to 
man as a magnified human judge ; whereas in Spinoza s view 
the reward of serving God is not as it were a prize, but the 
necessary consequence of the work itself. The love of God, 
which is man s highest happiness, follows from the knowledge 
of God as necessarily as it follows from the nature of 
a triangle that the sum of its angles is two right angles. 
One may easily give a general proof of this, if one will only 
consider the nature of God s decrees, as I have explained in 
my Appendix. 1 But I confess that all those who confound 
the divine nature with that of man are very inapt to compre 
hend this. Spinoza further shows how Blyenbergh had mis 
understood both himself and Descartes, and then replies with 
some warmth to the charge that his doctrine is likely to have 
mischievous consequences. When you say that by making 
men so dependent on God I make them like the natural 
elements, herbs, or stones, that is full proof that you take my 
meaning much amiss, and confuse things which are of the 
understanding with things of the imagination. For if you 
had clearly conceived in your understanding what dependence 
on God is, you would never think that things, forasmuch as 

| nugas, quales vulgo finguntj docere potesU Si enim in ipsa inveniremus aliquid, 
, quod lumini naturali esset contrarium, eadem libertate, qua Alcoranum et 
j Thalmud refellimus, illam refellere possemus. 

1 Cogit. Met. pt. ii. c. 9 ; cf. c. 7, 7 : Dei volitiones et decreta = eius cognitio 
circa res creatas]: Dei idea sive decretum. Cf. too Tract. Theol.-Pol. c. 4, 
2 4> 25 : respectu Dei unum et idem affirmamus, quum dicimus Deum ab 
aeterno decrevisse et voluisse tres angulos trianguli aequales esse duobus rectis, vel 
Deum hoc ipsum intellexisse. 


they depend on God, are dead, corporeal, and imperfect (as 
who has ever dared speak so meanly of the most perfect 
being ?) ; you would understand, on the contrary, that thereby, 
and forasmuch as they depend on God, they are perfect ; so 
that we best understand this dependence, and the necessary 
operation of things by God s decrees, when we look, not upon 
stocks and herbs, but upon the most reasonable and perfect 
creatures. ... I cannot forbear saying that I am greatly 
amazed when you say, If God were not to punish evil (to 
wit, as a judge doth, with a punishment that the evil itself 
brings not with it, for that is our only difference), what reason 
is there that I should not run into all manner of wickedness ? 
Surely he who abstains from such things only for fear of pun 
ishment (which I will not think of you) is in no way moved 
by love towards God, and has mighty little affection for 
virtue. For my part, I let such things alone, or endeavour so 
to do, because they would be clearly at strife with my proper 
nature, and lead me astray from the knowledge and the love 
of God. 

As to the rule of submission to the Scriptures, Spinoza 
says that in his opinion it is a more respectful way of treat 
ing the Scriptures to recognize that they speak in human 
language and in parables than to put hasty and absurd 
interpretations upon them for the purpose of contradicting 
natural reason. Matters of high speculation have, I think, 
nothing to do with the Scriptures. For my part, I have learnt 
none of God s eternal attributes from Scripture, nor have been 
able to learn any. 

One would think this answer not very encouraging, but 
Blyenbergh, nothing daunted, returned to the charge with 
another letter l nearly as long as the former one. He mildly 
complains of Spinoza s censures, but makes a kind of apo 
logy for persisting in his objections. He asks many new 
questions, most of them unanswerable and some irrational, 

1 E P . 35- 


and winds up with this sage postscript : Through haste I 
have forgot to add this question, whether we cannot by our 
foresight prevent that which otherwise would befall us ? 
Spinoza replied l in courteous terms, but obviously beginning 
to lose patience, that his purpose had been not merely to 
criticize, but to point out to Blyenbergh the fundamental 
nature of their difference. I had thought/ he says in 
substance, that you wished to discuss these matters in a 
purely philosophical manner, but you showed me that it was 
otherwise, and that the foundation on which I thought to 
build our friendship was not laid as I had supposed. He 
consents once more, however, to address himself to Blyen- 
bergh s objections. The leading passage is so characteristic 
that it seems profitable to give it nearly in full. 

* In the first place I say that God is perfectly and truly the cause 
of everything whatsoever that hath any being. Now if you can 
show that evil, error, crimes, and the like are anything which 
expresses real being, I shall fully grant to you that God is the cause 
of these things. I have sufficiently shown, to my mind, that that 
which constitutes the nature of evil, error, crimes, and so forth 
consists not in anything that expresses real being ; and therefore we 
cannot say that God is their cause. For example, Nero s matricide, 
in so far as it comprehended anything positive, was not a crime. 
For the outward act, and likewise the intention to slay his mother, 
were the same in Orestes case, and yet he is not blamed, at least not 
in the same degree as Nero. What, then, was- Nero s crime? 
Nothing else but that by such a deed he showed himself ungrateful, 
unmerciful, and disobedient. Tis certain that none of these things 
express real being, and therefore God was not the cause thereof, 
though he was of Nero s act and intent. Further, I would here have 
you note that while we speak in the manner of philosophy we must 
not use the language of theology. For since theology constantly 
represents God as a perfect man (and that not without reason) it 
suits well enough in theology to say that God has desire, that he is 
angered at the works of the ungodly, or that he takes pleasure in 
those of the righteous. But in philosophy, where we clearly under- 


stand that it is as little fit to ascribe to God the properties that make 
a man perfect as if one should ascribe to man such as belong to the 
perfection of the elephant or the ass, there, I say, the forementioned sort 
of terms have no place, and we cannot so use them without greatly 
confounding our conception of the matter. Therefore, philosophically 
speaking, we may not say that God desires anything of any man, or 
that anything is displeasing or agreeable to him ; for all these are 
human qualities, which in God have no place. 

He goes on to say, in answer to specific questions of 
Blyenbergh s, that however indifferent acts may be in them 
selves, considered from the philosophic or universal point of 
view, this does not affect our moral judgment of the agents. 
Blyenbergh asks whether homicide is equally acceptable 
to God with almsgiving? < Philosophically speaking, says 
Spinoza, I do not know what you mean by acceptable to God. 
If the question is whether God hates the one and loves the 
other, and whether the one has given offence to God and the 
other done him a favour, then I answer No. If the question 
is whether murderers are equally good and perfect with those 
who give alms, I again say No. The similar question, 
whether stealing be in the sight of God as good as honesty, 
is similarly disposed of. The acts of the thief and the honest 
man, so far as they are real actions, are equally perfect. 
Spinoza s meaning may want illustration for modern readers ; 
suppose, for example, a thief putting forth his hand to steal, 
and an honest man laying hands on him to stop him. The 
motion of the hand, considered as a natural event exhibiting 
the structure and functions of human limbs, is in itself no better 
or worse in the honest man s anatomy than in the thief s. Or, 
again, a thief may steal goods with violence, and an officer of 
justice may afterwards recover them from the thief, by actions 
in themselves precisely similar. But the honest man and 
the thief are not therefore alike in perfection or happiness 
of estate. For by an honest man (Spinoza continues) I 
understand one who desires that every one should have his 


own ; and I show in my Ethics (as yet unpublished) that this 
desire necessarily arises in righteous men from the clear know 
ledge they have of themselves and of God. Evil-doers, not 
having this desire, must be without the knowledge of God, 
and so miss the great foundation of human happiness. 

There was yet a third question : if there existed a mind 
so framed that vice and crime were not repugnant to its 
proper nature but agreed with it, could any rational motive 
be assigned why such an agent should do good or avoid evil ? 
Spinoza says that this is to assume a contradiction. 

It seems to me no otherwise than if one asked, supposing 
it agreed better with his nature to hang himself, whether there 
would be any reason for not hanging himself, Assuming 
that a man could really find hanging to agree better with 
him than eating and drinking, his only rational course would 
be to hang himself ; assuming that such a perverse human 
being as suggested by Blyenbergh could exist, vice would 
with respect to such a being become virtue. 

As to the last question, which you have added at the 
end of your letter, since one could put a hundred such in an 
hour without coming to a conclusion in any case, and you 
do not much press for an answer yourself, I shall not answer 
it. The question was indeed a formidably vague one. 
Probably Blyenbergh wanted to extract from Spinoza some 
thing capable of being used as an admission of free-will. 

Blyenbergh, still unabashed, paid Spinoza a visit in person, 
and finding that he could not remember to his own satisfac 
tion what Spinoza had said to him, sent yet another epistle, 
asking a new string of questions, which rambled pretty well 
over the whole ground of the Principia Philosophise and 
Cogitata Metaphysica. He concluded by asking, as a 
favour necessary to his complete understanding of Spinoza s 
answers, that Spinoza would furnish him with the principal 
heads of the Ethics. 

Philosophers are men (though the contrary seems to be 


not uncommonly believed), and human long-suffering has 
limits. After some delay Spinoza now replied very shortly, 1 
to the effect that he really could not undertake to answer 
questions of such a scope, but hoped to find an opportunity 
of explaining by word of mouth that it was impracticable ; 
the chief reason being that, even if he could do it, the funda 
mental differences between his views and Blyenbergh s would 
remain where they were before. He hopes that, on further 
consideration of the matter, Blyenbergh will waive this last 
request, and remain his good friend. With this Blyenbergh 
disappears from Spinoza s correspondence, but we hear more 
of him from Colerus, who speaks with much admiration of 
a controversial treatise against the Tractatus Theologico- 
Politicus published by Blyenbergh in 1674. Notwithstand 
ing his former friendly intercourse with Spinoza, the worthy 
merchant of Dordrecht pronounced the book to be full of 
curious but abominable discoveries, the learning and inquiries 
whereof must needs have been fetched from hell. He under 
took to prove Spinoza s opinions ruinous to the welfare of 
souls and of States, Ziel- en Landsverderffelyck. But such 
were the usual amenities of controversy at the time. In 
most cases they probably implied no personal ill-will. Eight 
years later Blyenbergh also published a refutation of the 
Ethics, 2 with the motto Ardua quae pulchra, probably meant 
as a counterblast to Spinoza s own concluding words, omnia 
praeclara tarn difficilia quam rara sunt. 

The curiosity of Spinoza s questioners was not limited to 
the proper field of philosophy ; they made no scruple of con 
sulting him on omens and ghosts. A friend named Peter 
Balling, of whom we know very little, 3 but for whom, judging 
from the tone of the answer, Spinoza must have had a sincere 
regard, announced the death of a child, and at the same time 

1 Ep. 38. 2 Bibliografie, 380. 

3 It appears that he was the translator of Spinoza s Principles of Descartes 
Philosophy, of which a Dutch version came out not long after the Latin. 


(seeking perhaps distraction in a speculative question) desired 
Spinoza s opinion of a supposed forewarning that had come 
to him. In other circumstances it is possible that Spinoza 
might have dealt with such a query rather summarily. We 
cannot suppose for instance that Blyenbergh would have taken 
much by throwing it in among his other difficulties. But now 
Spinoza was full of consideration for his friend s distress, and 
whatever he may have thought of the wisdom of the question 
in itself, he answered it, 1 gently and patiently, though with 
his usual decision. After expressing his sympathy and en 
treating Balling to write to him again at length, he proceeds 
to the matter of the warning. 

As to the omen you mention, namely, that while your child was 
still in good health you heard it groan in the same manner that it did 
when it had fallen into the sickness whereof it soon after died : I 
should think these were no real groans, but mere imagination, since 
you say that when you rose up and set yourself to listen for them, 
you heard them not so clearly as either before, or afterwards when 
you had fallen asleep again. Surely this proves that these groans 
were nothing else than imagination, which, being detached and 
free, could frame to itself a sound of groans in a more forcible and 
lively manner than in the time when you rose up to listen in a certain 
direction. I can both confirm and explain what I now say by another 
chance which befell me last winter at Rijnsburg. One morning as 
I woke out of a very heavy dream (it being already day), the images 
which had come before me in my dream remained before my eyes 
as lively as if they had been the very things, and specially that of a 
scurvy 2 black Brazilian, whom I had never before seen. This image 
vanished for the most part, when, in order to divert myself with 
somewhat else, I cast my eyes on a book or any other thing ; but 
so soon as 1 removed my eyes from their object, without looking 
with attention anywhere, the image of this same negro appeared 
as lively as before, and that again and again, until it vanished even 
to the head. Now I s,ay that the same thing which happened to 
me in the inward sense of sight happened in your sense of hearing, 
But since the causes were very different, there was in your case an 
omen, and in mine none. [The effects of the imagination are 

1 Ep. 30, - Or, leprous. 


various, according to the exciting cause, which may be either mental 
or bodily. 1 Where it is bodily, as in the delirium of fever, there can 
be no question of any relation to future events.] But the effects of 
imagination, or images, which have their origin from the condition 
of the mind, may be omens of something future, because the mind 
can have a confused presentiment of such a thing. It can therefore 
frame to itself as firm and lively an image of such a thing as if the 
thing were present. Thus, to take an example like yours, a father 
so loves his son that he and his beloved son are as it were one and 
the same being. 

Spinoza goes on to say, referring for details to some 
fuller exposition of the subject which cannot be identified 
with anything in his extant works, that in so far as the 
father is united by sympathy with the son, he shares not 
only in his actual existence, but in the consequences de 
termined by his present state and potentially included in 
it. Under favourable conditions, then, he may have an 
extremely vivid imagination of something depending on 
the son s own constitution and likely to happen to him, and 
which does in fact happen to him shortly afterwards. 

Spinoza s language is not altogether clear. It seems to 
assume a physiological theory of presentiments and other 
similar occurrences, designed to afford a natural explanation 
not only of the subjective facts, but of the supposed warnings 
being verified in a certain proportion of cases. Some such 
theory may have been struck out by Spinoza in the days when 
he still believed in animal spirits ; as indeed various physical 
conjectures of a similar kind have been started in our own 
time with much less excuse. Even very ingenious persons 
will try the most improbable suppositions rather than resign 
themselves to the incredulity of healthy common sense. 

It is fairly certain that the confused presentiment spoken 
of in the letter does not mean a revelation or literal foreseeing 

1 Spinoza is here speaking in a popular manner. We shall see hereafter that 
he does rot admit any causal connexion between mental and material phenomena, 
but only a parallel correspondence excluding such a relation. 


of a future event as such, but a sort of unconscious judgment 
of the possibilities involved in existing conditions. But the 
exact nature of this operation is not defined, still less the 
nature and extent of the sympathy which enables us to form 
a presentiment as to persons closely connected with us. The 
conception of love as an impulse to union with the beloved 
object, which is here pressed to an almost fantastic conse 
quence, is taken from Descartes, who himself probably had it 
from s,ome older source. It plays an important part in 
Spinoza s essay < On God and Man/ confided in manuscript to 
a limited number of friends, of whom perhaps Balling was one 
but has disappeared in the Ethics. On the whole the re 
marks now in question seem to belong to an early stage of 
Spinoza s psychology. Compared with other letters of about 
the same date (1664) they present something like an anachron 
ism. But such anachronisms must exist in the mind of every 
man whose thoughts are still maturing ; and, under the special 
circumstances, Spinoza was probably willing to strain a point 
in favour of treating Balling s question seriously. 

Ten years later another correspondent, whose name has 
been charitably suppressed by the editors of the Opera 
Posthuma/ wrote to Spinoza, without any particular occasion 
that appears, to ask what he thought about ghosts. He comes 
to the point without preface or preparation. The reason of my 
writing to you, he says, is that I desire to know your opinion 
concerning apparitions, and ghosts or goblins ; and if they 
exist, what you think of them, and how long they live ? for 
some consider them mortal and some immortal. He is quite 
aware, however, that Spinoza may entertain the preliminary 
doubt whether there be ghosts at all : but tis certain the 
ancients believed in them. . . . Some say they are made of 
a very thin fine matter, others that they are incorporeal. 
Spinoza s answer 1 begins with a neatly turned compliment: 

1 Ep. 56. 


Your letter, received yesterday, was most acceptable to me, as 
well because I desired some tidings of you, as because I see that you 
have not quite forgotten me. And though others might perhaps take 
it for a bad omen that ghosts or goblins should be the cause of your 
writing to me, I find on the contrary something much more to the 
purpose ; for I perceive that not only real things but trifles of the 
imagination may thus turn to my profit. 

He deals with the question in a tone of perfect courtesy, 
but with a touch of banter. I esteem you too much, he says, 
to contradict you ; much less can I flatter you with a feigned 
assent. As a middle course I will beseech you to produce 
one or two thoroughly authenticated ghost stories of your own 
choice. To be plain with you, I am so far from having met 
with a satisfactory account of any ghost, that I cannot even 
make out what a ghost is. If the philosophers choose to 
name those things ghosts which we do not know, I will not 
contradict them, for there are an infinity of things whereof I 
have no knowledge. He lastly observes that all the ghosts 
he ever heard of were at best very foolish creatures, and 
seemed to have nothing better to do than to make dull prac 
tical jokes. 

The questioner replies l that he expected some such 
answer, as from a friend not sharing his opinion (so it would 
seem his original purpose was to start a discussion) ; but 
friends, he adds, may well differ in things indifferent and yet 
preserve their friendship. 

Before proceeding to give reasons for his belief he notes, 
with a judicial gravity which need not surprise us, seeing that 
it is maintained at the present day by believers in table- 
moving, slate-writing, funipotent and other goblins, that 
preconceived opinions hinder the investigation of truth. He 
does not meet Spinoza s challenge, but gives a priori reasons 
why there must be disembodied or semi-material spirits such 

1 Ep. 57. 


creatures being, in his opinion, indispensable for the com 
pleteness of the universe. On their natural history he is 
a little uncertain. I think there are spirits of all sorts, 
though, perhaps, none of the female sex. Being aware, 
however, that these reasons will not be convincing to 
people who think the world was made by chance, he passes 
to evidence. He does not accept the stories of demons and 
magicians ; but for ghosts in general he cites Plutarch, Pliny 
the Younger, Suetonius, Lavater, and others ; the experience 
of a burgomaster of his own acquaintance, a learned and wise 
man, yet living, who told me that a noise of working was 
heard all night in his mother s brewhouse, just like that 
which brewing made in the day time, and some similar and 
never-to-be-forgotten experience of his own of which no 
particulars are disclosed. 

After a while Spinoza replied, 1 still in the tone of his first 
answer. He had been able to consult only Pliny and Sueto 
nius among the list of authorities given by his friend ; but he 
found these quite enough, for they convinced him that the 
historians who report ghost stories do so merely for the sake 
of astonishing their readers. I confess that I am not a 
little amazed, not at the stories that are told, but at those 
who set them down. The suggestion that there are male but 
not female ghosts is presumably not serious, otherwise I 
could only compare it to the imagination of the common sort, 
who take God to be masculine and not feminine. He explains 
that he entirely repudiates the notion of the world having 
been made by chance, but he nevertheless cannot admit his 
friend s assertion that ghosts are necessary to its perfection. 
For perfection and beauty are terms relative to the observer. 
He who says that God has made the world beautiful must 
needs assert one of two propositions : either that God has 
framed the world according to the desire and the eyes of men, 
or the desire and eyes of men according to the world. Now, 

> E P . 58. 


whether you assert the former or the latter, I see not why 
God must have made goblins and ghosts to attain either of 
these two ends. For perfection and imperfection, they are 
terms not much different from beauty and ugliness. So, 
not to be tedious, I only ask, is the existence of ghosts more 
necessary to the adornment and perfection of the world than 
that of various other monsters like Centaursj Hydras, Harpies, 
Satyrs, Griffins, Argus, and other like vanities ? A pretty 
world it should have been, indeed, had God adorned and 
beautified it after the good pleasure of our fancies with such 
things as any man may easily imagine and dream, but none 
have yet been able to understand. Having disposed of the 
other reasons, Spinoza regrets that his friend has not been 
able to furnish him with any better example than the burgo 
master s ghost in the brewhouse, which he considers laughable. 
* To cut the matter short, I take for my authority Julius 
Caesar, who, as Suetonius reports, made sport of such things 
and yet prospered. And so must all do who consider the 
effects of human imagination and passions, whatever Lavater, 
and others who in this matter dream in company with him, 
may say to the contrary. 

The rejoinder ] was delayed by a passing indisposition of 
the writer. It was mostly taken up with a theological 
digression. Spinoza s friend asks, among other things, as a 
retort to his demand for a clearer definition of ghost or spirit, 
whether he has so clear an idea of God as of a triangle. As 
to the main point, he takes refuge in the general consent of 
ancient and modern philosophers. Plutarch bears witness of 
this in his treatises of the Opinions of the Philosophers, and 
of the Daemon of Socrates ; as do all the Stoics, Pythago 
reans, PlatonistSj Peripatetics, Empedocles, Maximus Tyrius, 
Apuleius, and others. 

Spinoza must have had reasons of private friendship for 
being indulgent to this correspondent ; for he not only 

1 E P . 59, 


answered him again, but took up his remarks on points quite 
collateral to the existence of ghosts. Part of this letter l is 
of some importance. Spinoza points out that he conceives 
freedom as opposed, not to necessity, but to external com 
pulsion. Every one admits, for example, that God s know 
ledge of himself is both free and necessary. So, again, man s 
love of life is necessary, but not compelled. The correspon 
dent had expressed surprise at Spinoza s refusal to ascribe 
human qualities to God. To this Spinoza replies : When 
you say that, if I allow not in God the operations of seeing, 
hearing, observing, willing, and the like, nor that they exist 
eminently in him, you know not what sort of God mine is: I 
thence conjecture that you believe there is no greater perfection 
than such as can be explained by the attributes aforesaid. I 
do not wonder at it ; for I believe that a triangle, if it could 
speak, would in like manner say that God is eminently tri 
angular, and a circle that the divine nature is in an eminent 
manner circular ; and thus should every one ascribe his own 
attributes to God, and make himself like God, counting 
everything else as misshapen. 2 . . . When you ask me 
whether I have so clear an idea of God as of a triangle, I 
answer Yes. But if you ask me whether I have such a clear 
image of God as of a triangle, I shall answer No: for we 
cannot imagine God, but we can understand him. This 
distinction between imagination and understanding runs 
through the whole of Spinoza s philosophy. He repeats that 
nothing has been advanced to make the existence of ghosts 
even probable, and altogether declines to submit to the 
authority of the ancients. 

The authority of Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates does not count 

1 E P . 60. 

2 Cf. the fragment of Xenophanes : 

If oxen and horses had hands like ours, and fingers, 
Then would horses like unto horses, and oxen to oxen, 
Paint and fashion their gods. (G. H. Lewes s trans.). 


for much with me. I should have been surprised if you had cited 
Epicurus, Democritus, Lucretius, or any of the Atomic school. For 
it is nothing strange that the inventors of occult qualities, intentional 
species, substantial forms, and a thousand other vanities, should have 
also devised goblins and ghosts, and given credence to old wives, in 
order to destroy Democritus reputation, whose good name they so 
envied that they burnt all the books he had published with so much 
renown. If you choose to believe them, what reason have you for 
denying the miracles of Our Lady and all the saints ? which are 
described by so many philosophers, theologians, and historians of 
renown that I can produce a hundred of them for one of the others. 

This last passage is material, as disclosing how very im 
perfectly Spinoza was acquainted with Greek philosophy. It 
would seem that he thought Aristotle responsible for all the 
developments of the schoolmen and knew Plato only by 
name. His sympathy with the Epicureans is no doubt 
founded on the fact that their system was a genuine attempt 
at a scientific explanation of the world, and was in its day 
the solitary protest against the contempt of physics which 
prevailed in the other post-Aristotelian schools. But he 
obviously did not know Lucretius except by hearsay ; for 
Lucretius and his masters, so far from venturing to deny the 
objective reality of apparitions, provided an elaborate physical 
hypothesis to account for them. 

Alchemy was a kindred topic which still exercised men s 
minds in Spinoza s time, and we have some evidence of the 
manner in which he regarded it. In 1667 he wrote to Jarig 
Jellis on an alleged conversion of silver into gold effected by 
an unknown stranger in the presence of the naturalized Ger 
man chemist Helvetius (Schweizer), who had by this time 
taken up alchemy with full belief. 

He made inquiries of both the goldsmith who had assayed 
the gold and Helvetius himself; and though he expresses 
no opinion, he was obviously disposed to think seriously of 
the matter at that time. 1 But in 1675, when Dr. Schaller had 

1 Ep. 45. See Lewes, Hist. Phil. 2. 180. Helvetius published his Vitulus 


sent him an account of some similar experiment, he simply 
replied that he did not care to repeat it, and that the more he 
considered it the more sure he felt that no gold was produced 
which was not there already. 1 

We have also letters more nearly connected with Spinoza s 
philosophical work, and attached to particular landmarks of 
it. In 1673 the Jewish physician Isaac Orobio de Castro 2 
forwarded to Spinoza a long letter, written nominally to him, 
but for Spinoza s perusal, by a certain Dr. Lambert van Velt- 
huysen of Utrecht. This critic went through all the common 
topics of censure against the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus/ 
and concluded that the principles of that treatise destroy the 
foundations of religion, introduce atheism, or set up a God 
himself subject to destiny, whom men can have no reason for 
worshipping ; leave no room for divine government or pro 
vidence, and abolish all dispensations of reward and punish 
ment. In short, the author of such a work has no injury to 
complain of if he is denounced as teaching mere atheism in a 
disguised form. 3 

Spinoza thought the criticism not only wrong but perverse ; 
so perverse, indeed, as to be hardly consistent with good faith : 
and he replied with a sharpness beyond his wont. The original 
draft of the letter has been found, and contains even stronger 
expressions, which on consideration he struck out. The tone 

Aureus in this same year, 1667. His family is a remarkable example of hereditary 
talent ; his son and grandson were both eminent as physicians in France, where 
the son settled early in life ; his great grandson (1715-1771) was the philosopher 
by whom the name is best known. 

1 Ep. 75 b. Van Vloten, Suppl. p. 318. 

2 Balthasar, afterwards Isaac Orobio de Castro (circ. 1620-1687) was of a New 
Christian family, and had lived many years in Spain, where he was a distinguished 
physician. He fell into suspicion of Judaism, and was imprisoned and tortured 
by the Inquisition, and finally banished from Spain. A ter spending some time 
in France, he settled in Amsterdam and professed himself a Jew. He became 
well known as a controversial writer, and was the author of a critique on one of 
Spinoza s critics, whom he charged with being himself a Spinozist. (Certamen 
Philosophic urn, etc. Bibliogr. 108, 209). Gratz, x. 202. 

* Ep. 48. 


of this letter shows us an aspect of Spinoza s character which 
we could ill afford to miss. His indignation is not the mere 
intellectual disgust of a philosopher at the stupidity of an un 
reasonable critic, it is the moral resentment of a man loving 
truth and righteousness at the imputation of teaching what he 
abhors. It seems well to give here a considerable part of 
the letter. 

He begins with saying it concerns him little to know what 
is my nation or way of life. If he had known it, he would 
not have so easily convinced himself that I teach atheism. It 
is the character of atheists to seek rank and wealth beyond 
measure, things which I have ever despised, as all know who 
are acquainted with me. . . . Then he proceeds : In order to 
avoid the reproach of superstition, he seems to me to have cast 
off religion altogether. What this writer means by religion 
and what by superstition, I know not. Does he, I would 
ask, cast off all religion who affirms that God is to be 
accepted for the chief good, and that as such he is to be loved 
with a free affection ? that in this only consists our per 
fect happiness and perfect liberty ? more, that the reward of 
virtue is virtue itself, and the punishment of folly and vice is 
folly itself? and, lastly, that every man s duty is to love his 
neighbour and to obey the commands of the supreme power ? 
These things I have not only said, but proved by most solid 
reasons. But methinks I see in what mud this fellow sticks. 1 
He finds, it should seem, nothing to please him in virtue and 
knowledge by themselves, and he would choose to live by the 
mere impulse of his passions but for this one difficulty, that 
he fears the penalty. So he abstains from ill deeds and 
follows God s commandments like a slave, unwilling and with a 
hesitating mind, and for this service looks to be rewarded by 
God with gifts far more grateful to him than the love of God 
itself; so much the more, I say, as he finds the more distaste 

1 Quo in luto hie homo haereat. Spinoza was scholar enough to know the 
classical force of homo in controversial usage, and I think he intended it. 


and repugnance in well-doing. And thus it comes about that 
in his conceit all men who are not restrained by this fear 
must live without discipline and cast off all religion. But I 
leave this, and pass to his conclusions where he would fain 
show that I teach atheism by covert and glo zing arguments. 

The foundation of his reasoning is this, that he thinks I 
take away God s freedom, and make him subject to fate : 
which is manifestly false. For I have affirmed that all things 
follow of inevitable necessity from God s nature no otherwise 
than all affirm that it follows from God s nature that he 
understands himself. This surely no one denies to follow 
necessarily from God s nature, and yet no one conceives that God 
understands himself under any compulsion of fate, but rather 
that he does so with entire freedom, though necessarily. . . . 

This inevitable necessity of things destroys neither divine 
nor human law. For moral precepts, whether they have the 
form of law from God himself [i.e. by direct revelation] or not, 
are yet divine and wholesome ; and the good which ensues 
from virtue and the love of God, whether we take it from 
God as a judge [a political superior issuing distinct com 
mands] or as flowing from the necessity of God s nature, will 
be neither more nor less desirable ; as on the other hand the 
evil which ensues from evil deeds is not therefore less to be 
feared because it so comes of necessity : in short, whether 
our actions be necessary or free, our motives are still hope 
and fear. Therefore his assertion is false, that / would leave 
no room for precepts and commands, or, as he says later, that 
there is no expectation of reward or punishment when every 
thing is ascribed to fate, and it is settled that all things proceed 
from God by inevitable necessity. . . . 

It were too long to review all the passages which show that 
he was in no sober mood when he formed his judgment of 
me. Wherefore I pass to his conclusion, where he says that 
/ have left myself no argument to prove that Mahomet was not 
a true tirobhet. And this he endeavours to show from my 


principles, whereas it plainly follows from them that Mahomet 
was an impostor. For that liberty which is granted by the 
catholic religion, as revealed by the light of both nature and 
prophecy, and which I have shown is most fit to be granted, 
is by him wholly done away. But if this were not so, am I 
concerned, I pray you, to show that such and such a prophet 
is a false one ? On the contrary, the burden lay on the 
prophets to show that they were truly such. If he should reply 
that Mahomet also taught God s law, and gave sure tokens 
of his mission, as the other prophets did, then I grant there 
will be no cause for him to deny that Mahomet was a true 

For the Turks themselves and heathens in general, if 
they worship God by justice and charity to their neighbours, 
I believe that they have the spirit of Christ and are saved, 
whatever persuasion they may entertain through ignorance 
concerning Mahomet and their oracles. 

You see, my friend, how far from the truth your corre 
spondent has wandered. Nevertheless I admit that he has 
done no injury to me, but much to himself, when he scruples 
not to affirm that / teach atheism with covert and glazing 

I do not think you will find anything in this that you 
can judge too harsh in its terms towards this writer, But if 
you light on any such thing I beg you to strike it out, or else 
amend it as you shall think fit. I have no mind to anger him, 
whoever he may be, or make myself enemies by my work ; 
and because this commonly happens in disputations of this 
sort, I could scarce bring myself to answer him, nor could I 
have done so unless I had promised you. * 

This protest is strong and even vehement in its terms, and 
there is not the least reason to doubt its sincerity. It has an 
important bearing on that part of Spinoza s sentiments of 
which it is peculiarly difficult to form an exact estimate, I 

1 Ep. 49. 


mean his relation to religious belief in general We shall 
have to consider in another place the effect of his philoso 
phical system, taken in itself, on religion as usually under 
stood. His own interpretation of his philosophy is on that 
question material but not conclusive : here it comes before us 
as a point in his personal character. It is evident that he 
considered religion as something very real in man s life, and 
the charge of irreligion or atheism as the grossest and most 
wicked of calumnies. But this religion, as he understands it, 
is not the religion of churches and sects. It is independent 
of dogmatic theology, independent of any particular know 
ledge or belief as to revelation, independent even of the 
so-called natural theology which holds to the conception of 
God as a Person after all other definitions of his nature have 
been renounced, and to the expectation of another life which 
shall redress the balance of the present one in some manner 
of which all specific knowledge is disclaimed. The essence of 
religion is in Spinoza s mind a cheerful and willing co-operation 
with the order of the world as manifested in the nature of 
man and of society. Irreligion is the self-seeking spirit to 
which the love that is its own reward is unknown. The 
atheist is the man who has nothing better to pursue than the 
satisfaction of his own vulgar appetites, whose only plan of 
life is honores et divitias supra modum quaerere. The true 
and saving worship is to do justice and love one s neighbour. 
And observe that Spinoza does not put this as something 
beside or opposed to religion ; he speaks of it as religion 
itself, and regards definite religious beliefs (in the popular 
sense) as things in themselves comparatively indifferent, but 

I good in so far as they serve as a vehicle, so to speak, for the 

i essential virtues of love and well-doing. 

His attitude towards Christianity not the dogmas of 

| Catholic or Reformed divines, but the spirit of Christ which 
men may have in intellectual and historical ignorance 
is one of respect and even reverence. In the Tractatus 


Theologico-Politicus one is not absolutely safe in relying on 
expressions of this kind, as the treatise is framed throughout 
on an accommodating and hypothetical plan, which gives 
occasion for a certain vein of irony. But in this letter he is 
writing to the Jew Orobio, an escaped and living witness of 
the tender mercies of the Inquisition, who, even if he shared 
the liberal tendencies of many members of the Amsterdam 
synagogue, would not be specially pleased by compliments 
to Christianity. And it is very certain that Spinoza did not go 
out of his way to please Van Velthuysen, for whose reading 
the reply was ultimately intended. 

The tone of the Tractatus and of Spinoza s remarks in 
divers passages of other writings is indeed strongly anti 
clerical. Spinoza regards clerical influence as a bad thing, 
not so much on the ground that it is wrong to teach with 
authority and as absolutely certain that which is false or 
doubtful, as because such influence tends to disturb the order 
of society and diminish respect for the civil law. Hence the 
peculiar hostility with which Spinoza has been pursued by 
professional theologians. But as regards individual belief 
there is nothing irreligious or anti-religious to be found in 
him. He would never have consented to his name, being 
inscribed on the banner of a materialist crusade. 

Notwithstanding the sharpness of this first passage of 
arms, Van Velthuysen and Spinoza came into direct commu- || 
nication afterwards, and on terms of mutual respect, if not i 
friendship. There is a letter 1 from Spinoza to Velthuysen | 
concerning his intention of publishing, together with some I 
explanatory notes to the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, 
certain papers which appear to be no other than the corre 
spondence we have just had before us. The letter seems to 
be one of a series of at least two or three, and to have been 
preserved only by accident. I give it here, however, for the 
fine sense of literary courtesy which it shows. 

1 Ep. 75- 


I am surprised at our friend Neustadt having told you 
that I thought of replying to the writings against my treatise 
which have been published for some time past, and intended 
to include your MS. in the number. I am sure I never 
intended to refute any of my opponents, so little did any of 
them seem to me worth an answer. All I remember to 
have said to Mr. Neustadt is that I purposed to publish some 
notes explaining the more difficult passages of the treatise, 
and to add to these your MS. and my answer, if I had your 
leave for so doing. This I desired him to ask of you, and added 
that in case you should be unwilling to grant it on the score 
of certain expressions in the answer being rather severe, you 
should be at full liberty either to amend or to cancel them. 
Meanwhile I have no cause of offence against Mr. N. ; but I 
thought it well to show you the real state of the case, so that, 
if I cannot obtain your leave, I might at least make it clear 
that I had no manner of design to publish your MS. against 
your will. I believe, indeed, it may be done without any risk 
to your reputation, provided your name is not affixed to it ; 
but I will do nothing unless you grant me leave and licence 
to publish it. But I am free to confess you would do me 
a far greater favour if you would set down the arguments 
with which you think you can attack my treatise, and add 
them to your MS. ; and this I most heartily beseech you to 
do. There is no one whose arguments I should be more 
willing to consider, for I am aware that your only motive is 
affection for the truth, and I know the candour of your mind ; 
in the name of which I again entreat you not to decline 
giving yourself this trouble. 

The scheme here mentioned was not carried out, and a 
year or two afterwards Van Velthuysen published his argu 
ments as an independent work. It is one of the polemics 
against Spinoza mentioned with approbation by Colerus. 

Leibnitz, who after Spinoza s death joined the popular cry 
against him, appears in his lifetime among the list of his 


correspondents. In 1671 he wrote to him, enclosing for his 
opinion a note on the improvement of lenses. He addresses 
him as an expert of well-known standing and authority : 
1 Among your other merits known to fame, I understand that 
you have excellent skill in optics, which persuades me to 
address to you my essay, such as it is, as I shall not easily 
find a better critic than yourself in this kind of inquiry. 
Spinoza replied courteously, and offered to send Leibnitz 
a copy of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, if he had not 
one already. 1 

In 1675 we hear that Tschirnhausen (of whom presently) 
had met in Paris < a man of excellent learning, accomplished 
in many sciences, and likewise free from vulgar theological 
prejudice, byname Leibnitz, who thought very highly of the 
Tractatus Theologico-Politicus/ and had (if he remembered 
right) written about it to Spinoza. 2 Tschirnhausen thought 
he might safely be trusted with Spinoza s writings (i.e., the 
Ethics in MS.), and that, for reasons he could explain on 
occasion, it would be well worth Spinoza s while. The 
answer to this overture was however more cautious than 
might have been expected. Spinoza wrote to the friend 
through whom it had been communicated that he thought he 
already knew this Leibnitz by correspondence, but could not 
tell what he was doing in France. From his letters he judged 
him to be an accomplished and liberal-minded man, but he 
thought it imprudent to trust him with the unpublished work 
without knowing more of him. On the whole he would await 
a further report from Tschirnhausen. 3 

Leibnitz afterwards, on his way home from Paris, paid a 
visit to Spinoza. Whether they talked philosophy does not 
appear. Leibnitz himself represented the conversation as 
having been an ordinary if not trifling one, in which Spinoza 

1 E PP . 51, 52. 

3 There is no such matter in Leibnitz s one extant letter to Spinoza. 
* Ep. 65^ (to Dr. Schaller of Amsterdam), Suppl. p. 317. 


told him some amusing stories about the politics of the time. 1 
He doubtless thought it necessary to avoid the suspicion of 
having had too much to do with the heretic Spinoza, 
and prudent to make a sort of apology for having visited 
him at all. Leibnitz s depreciation of Spinoza s merits in 
philosophy was such as to speak ill either for his penetration 
or for his candour. 

In the last two years of Spinoza s life we have a series of 
important philosophical letters which bring him, as we now 
know, into relation with one of the men who in the following 
generation were diligent in extending the domain of science. 
Ehrenfried Walter von Tschirnhausen (1651-1708) was of a 
noble Bohemian family, and later in life attained high distinc 
tion in mathematics and physics, and was at a comparatively 
early age admitted to the French Academy of Sciences. He 
became especially known by his improvements in the 
construction of lenses and burning glasses, with which he 
produced extraordinary effects, and his name has left a per 
manent place in mathematics by his investigation of the class 
of curves known as caustics. The foundation of his scientific 
taste was laid during his studies at the university of Leyden, 
and we may well suppose that it was on the special ground of 
optics that he first sought Spinoza s acquaintance. When we 
meet with him in the letters he is already on the footing of an 
old friend. His name was suppressed by the editors of the 
Opera Posthuma, like those of several other of Spinoza s 
correspondents, and his part, formerly attributed by conjecture 
to Dr. Meyer, has only been restored to him since the full 
text of these letters was published by Van Vloten. He did 
not, like Leibnitz, turn against Spinoza s memory ; but 
neither did he make any open attempt to vindicate it. The 
work by which he is best known, * Medicina Mentis (Amster 
dam, 1687), draws largely and tacitly on Spinoza s treatise 

1 Anecdota non contemnenda de rebus illius temporis. See Spin. Op. ed. 
Paulus, 2. 672 sqq. ; and cf. Van Vloten, Supp. p. 307. 


on the Amendment of the Understanding. The borrowing 
is of an extent which in our more scrupulous age would amply 
warrant a charge of plagiary ; but when we consider the lax 
habits of the time in this respect, and the prejudice which 
any open reference to Spinoza would certainly have excited 
against Tschirnhausen s work, we should be at least cautious 
in blaming him. If his object was to gain a hearing for 
Spinoza s ideas among the respectable public, there can be no 
doubt that the course he adopted was the most plausible if not 
the only practicable one. At the same time it is certain that 
Tschirnhausen, without any such excuse, gave some offence 
to both Huygens and Leibnitz by his use of unpublished 
matter which they had communicated to him. 1 

Tschirnhausen was an eager student of Descartes, and 
also of Spinoza s yet unpublished writings. In 1675-6 he 
made a journey to London, where he exerted himself with 
success to remove an ill opinion which Boyle and Oldenburg 
had formed of the * Tractatus Theologico-Politicus and of 
Spinoza himself; and on his way back he stayed in Paris, 
and, as we have seen, made the acquaintance of Leibnitz. 
During this time he exchanged letters with Spinoza on 
several metaphysical points. His questions and objections 
were the most deserving of attention of any that Spinoza 
had received. They are always intelligent, and one or two 
are so acute and forcibly put that it would be difficult for a 
modern critic to improve upon them. Even an uncritical 
reader may perceive strong evidence of their aptness in the 
fact that Spinoza himself found considerable difficulty in 
meeting them. Tschirnhausen s power of appreciation and 
criticism does not seem however to have been accompanied 
by much capacity for original work in philosophy. He en 
tertained an exaggerated notion of the advances in physical 
discovery which might be secured by an a priori doctrine of 
method. We already see traces of this in his correspondence 

1 Van Vloten, Benedict us de Spinoza, App. III. 


with Spinoza, and at a later time his too sanguine expecta 
tions were gently rebuked by Huygens. 1 But with all allow 
ances for errors of judgment and other human infirmities, his 
career was a useful and honourable one, and to have been 
Tschirnhausen s master is no contemptible addition to 
Spinoza s memory. 

There is yet one correspondent to be recorded who stands 
alone. In the autumn of 1675 Spinoza received a strange 
epistle 2 dated from Florence, and written by one Albert 
Burgh, now believed to be the same pupil and companion 
whose facilities of intercourse with Spinoza were so much 
envied by Simon da Vries, and of whose temper and capacities 
Spinoza, in writing to De Vries, expressed a very doubtful 
opinion. He now announced that he had been received into 
the fold of the Catholic Church ; the particular circumstances 
of his conversion might be seen in a letter he had written to 
Professor Craane of Leyden ; his present purpose was to offer a 
few remarks important for Spinoza s own welfare. And with 
that he launched forth at no small length into denunciation 
of Spinoza s profane and chimerical philosophy, mixed with 
compassion (of the right ecclesiastical sort) for the wretched 
estate of his soul if he should persist in his damnable errors. 
He marvels how a man of Spinoza s abilities, eager in the 
pursuit of truth, could let himself be so deceived by the devil. 
You assume, he asks with delightful simplicity, that you 
have at last found the true philosophy. How do you know 
that your philosophy is the best of all those which have ever 
been taught in the world, are now taught, or shall ever be 
taught hereafter ? To say nothing of what may be devised 

1 See their correspondence in Van Vloten s Supplement, which is in many 
respects curious. Tschirnhausen s statements as to an expected pension from the 
Academy of Sciences, and the amount of assistance he required ad studia bona 
excolenda, show that the endowment of research is no new invention. Huygens 
just estimate of the amount of inevitable labour still lying before science is also 
worth noting. 

2 Ep. 73- 


in the future, have you examined all those philosophies both 
ancient and modern which are taught here, in India, and all 
the world over ? And even supposing you have duly ex 
amined them, how do you know that you have chosen the 
best? . . . 

Do not flatter yourself, cries the triumphant proselyte, 
with the reflection that the Calvinists or so-called Reformed 
divines, the Lutherans, the Mennonites, the Socinians, or others 
cannot refute your doctrines. All those poor creatures are as 
wretched as yourself, and sitting along with you in the shadow 
of death. How dare you set yourself up above all the 
patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, doctors, and confessors 
of the Church ? Miserable man and worm upon the earth 
that you are, yea, ashes and food for worms, how can you 
confront the eternal wisdom with your unspeakable blasphemy? 
What foundation have you for this rash, insane, deplorable, 
accursed presumption ? What devilish pride puffs you up to 
pass judgment on mysteries which Catholics themselves de 
clare to be incomprehensible ? This and much more of the 
same fashion is enforced with arguments which it would be 
intolerably tedious to repeat. One of them however may 
deserve to be singled out : it is that, because Julius Caesar 
would probably have laughed at a prophecy of gunpowder, it 
is unreasonable to disbelieve in the divining rod, alchemy, 
magic, and demonology. Burgh protests that he has written 
to Spinoza with a truly Christian intention ; first that you 
may understand the love I bear to you, though a heathen ; and 
next, to beseech you not to persist in perverting others. 
Finally he threatens Spinoza with eternal damnation if he 
does not repent of his wicked and abominable errors. It will 
be remembered that the immortal discourse of Brother Peter 
in the Tale of a Tub ends with invoking similar consequences 
on the hearers if they offer to believe otherwise ; but the 
genuine crudity of Albert Burgh s effusion hardly leaves 
room for even a Swift to add any touch of caricature. 


Spinoza was at first unwilling to make any answer to such 
an attack. But some common friends, who had known Burgh 
and, with Spinoza, hoped better things of him, represented that 
it was but due to their old friendship to try the effect of re 
monstrance. Being once prevailed upon to write, Spinoza could 
not but show his sense of the extreme folly and insolence 
displayed in Burgh s letter. The arrogance of it would have 
been sufficiently gross if addressed to a Protestant ; to one 
who had never professed himself a Christian at all it was ex 
travagant. The answer is far the sharpest ever written by 
Spinoza. 1 For serious argument he had little occasion ; the 
convert s attack on what he called chimerical philosophy was 
easily answered out of his own mouth. 

You who assume that you have at last found the best 
religion, or rather the best teachers, and fixed your credulity 
on them, Jiozv do you know tJiat they are the best among these 
who have taught other religions, or now teach or shall hereafter 
teach them ? Have you examined all those religions both ancient 
and modern which are taught here and in India and all the world 
over? And even supposing you have duly examined them, lion 
do you know that you have chosen the best? 

Spinoza recalls to the hot-headed proselyte, who fancies 
that Rome has a monopoly of all the virtues, that in Alva s 
persecution his own ancestors had suffered valiantly for the 
Protestant religion. The historical claims of the Church of 
Rome are met not with direct criticism but with an un 
expected counter-attack. 

As for what you add touching the common consent of 
multitudes of men, the uninterrupted continuance of the 
Church, and the like, that is the very same old tale as the 
Pharisees . They bring forward their myriad witnesses with 

1 Some remarks of Leibnitz s on this letter, of no great importance, may be 
found at the end of M. Foucher de Careil s Leibniz, Descartes, el Spinoza ; 
and some sufficiently absurd reflections by the admiring editor at the end of the 
Premier Memoire in the same volume. 


no less confidence than the devotees of Rome, and those 
witnesses repeat their traditions, as if they were facts within 
their own knowledge, no less stoutly than the Roman ones. 
Their lineage they carry back to Adam. They boast as 
proudly as any that their Church has been continued to this 
day, and stands unshaken in spite of the enmity of heathens 
and Christians. They have more antiquity for them than 
any other sect. They proclaim with one voice that their 
tradition comes direct from God, and that they alone possess 
the word of God both written and unwritten. It cannot be 
denied that all heresies have branched off from them, while 
they have remained firm during several thousand years with 
no political power to compel them, but in the mere strength of 
fanaticism. The miracles they report would weary a thousand 
nimble tongues. But their most notable claim is that they 
count far more martyrs than any other nation, and they daily 
increase the number of those who have with singular con 
stancy suffered for the faith they profess ; and this is no fable. 
I know myself, among others, of one Judah, called the Believer, 
who in the midst of the fire, when he was supposed already 
dead, began to sing the psalm, To thee, O God, I commit my 
soul, and so expired singing it. 1 

The discipline of the Roman Church, which you so much 
praise, is, I confess, politic and brings gain to many. I should 
think, indeed, that there was none more convenient for 
deceiving the vulgar and subduing men s minds, were it not 
for the discipline of the Mahometan Church, which far excels 

1 This was Don Lope de Vera y Alarcon de San Clemente, a Spanish nobleman 
who was converted to Judaism through the study of Hebrew, and was burnt at 
Valladolid on the 25th of July, 1644. Gratz, Gesch. derjuden, x. 101. Dr. Gratz 
supposes that Spinoza here speaks as an eye-witness, and must consequently have 
been born and passed his youth in Spain. But the sense of Spinoza s words is amply 
satisfied by referring them to the notoriety which the event doubtless had among the 
Jewish congregation of Amsterdam. It cannot be suggested that in 3 Spinoza 
means to say that Burgh had witnessed the sufferings of his own ancestors under 
the Duke of Alva. But the phrase (parentes tuos nosti, qui . . . ipse quendam 
Judam . . . novi, qui . . . ) is exactly the same in both cases. 


it. For since that superstition had its rise, no schism has 
taken place in their Church. 

Spinoza means, I suppose, that in the history of Islam 
there is no great doctrinal rupture comparable to the Reforma 
tion in Europe. He must have known from his study of the 
Jewish philosophers, who abound in allusions to the Arabic 
schools, that Mahometanism has no lack of sects to show. 
It shares with Judaism, however, the advantage of never 
having complicated its fundamental formula. But under the 
circumstances Spinoza could not be expected to write with 
minute exactness, even if he were capable of it. A broad and 
rapid presentation of things was the only instrument that 
could possibly have any effect on Albert Burgh s sublime 




Laudemus viros gloriosos, et parentes nostros in generatione sua. EcCLUS. 
xliv. i. 

Lo, thou hast learned that whosoever tells a thing in the name of him that said 
it brings redemption to the world. Pereq R. MEIR (in C. Taylor s Sayings of the 
Jewish Fathers ). 

Part /. Judaism and Neo-Platonism. 

THE time has passed when systems of philosophy could be 
regarded as final and absolute. It is not so very long since 
it was assumed as a matter of course that the key to all the 
secrets of the universe was in man s hands, and that only 
culpable perversity could fail to find it. In our own day the 
nearest approach to a dogmatic philosophy of the old pattern 
has been a doctrine which proceeds on the systematic assump 
tion that the problems of philosophy are insoluble. There 
are some who find in this state of things the death-warrant of 
philosophy itself, and thereupon exult or revolt, according to 
their temper, as at a matter irrevocably judged. But such are 
over-hasty, forgetting that the change which has come over 
men s view of the great problems of the world is not single or 
casual, but is the last step in a vast movement of human 
thought which has profoundly modified our whole conception 
of the nature and limits of knowledge. Science has for good 
and all abandoned the dream of finality. The discoverer 
well knows that his discovery, while it brings new certainty 
and new power over things, will also throw open a new series 
of questions. In the first flush of conquering advance, armed 


with instruments whose power seemed unbounded, and 
mighty in their new-born freedom of mind, the leaders of the 
great revival saw visions of a goal near at hand. Let the 
right method be once obtained, and a few simple principles 
might suffice to explain the whole course of nature. So 
thought Descartes and his ardent followers, among whom we 
have already seen Spinoza s friend Tschirnhausen. Soj 
thought Leibnitz even after the warning of their failures. A 
few more cautious workers, with the prescience which only 
practical experience gives, refused to be dazzled by these 
magnificent and facile promises. Thus Huygens perceived 
that the course which lay before scientific explorers was at 
best a long and arduous one. Thus Newton taught the world 
the lesson of patient exactness by his great example of self- 
denial. But the world is slow to learn, and as the work of 
science grew and multiplied it admired with imperfect know 
ledge, accepting provisional or even erroneous results as 
absolute truth. At last the various paths of science were 
seen to converge into a broad road. The atomic theory brought 
chemistry into relation with general physics, and the ideas of 
correlation and continuity drew together the several branches 
of physical knowledge, while the undulatcry theory of light 
opened to the scientific imagination a new world coextensive 
with the sensible universe. But it was also seen that this was 
not the end of questionings, but the beginning of new and 
higher questionings. A fresh problem arose in the place 
of every one that had been solved or set aside : and, so far 
from resting on her conquests, science only girded herself for 
a more strenuous continuance of the campaign. We stand 
face to face with infinite mysteries in the things we see and 
handle ; we have to do no longer with inert masses pushed 
and pulled through space by a convenient something called 
Force, but myriadfold complexities of rushing, vibrating, 
pulsating units, each of them endowed with a definite charac 
ter and persisting in it against the assaults of the whole 




universe ; endless motion, shock and counter-shock, taken up 
and reverberated by the all-pervading ether; everywhere 
restless activity, and changes rapid beyond our conception, 
though numbered and measured in our calculations ; a new 
and immense variety in the manifestations of nature, a 
boundless and unexplored wealth in her powers. The very 
elements of our physical knowledge are transformed. Only a 
few years ago we talked of Matter and Force as if they were 
things obvious and within our grasp. The doctrine of Energy 
has come to tell us that even in the elements we must always 
be learning afresh. Descartes, and Spinoza after him, spoke 
of Motion as if it were a real thing. Down to the present 
time we have been brought up to speak of Force as if it were 
a real thing. Now Force has become either a mere compen 
dious symbol in the description of motion, or a worse than idle 
name to hide our ignorance ; and matter is almost reduced to 
a vehicle for Energy. Yet the certainty of the natural sciences 
is not shaken, nor is the ardour of research abated. We still 
seek knowledge, knowing that when we have found it we shall 
have to seek still farther. 

Was it any wonder, then, that philosophy, having not only 
the difficulties of scientific inquiry to contend with, but other 
peculiar ones differing in kind from those encountered in the 
natural sciences, should be slower to enter into the critical 
period in which knowledge becomes conscious of its provi 
sional character ? Is it surprising, on the other hand, that 
philosophy also should at last conform to the conditions 
that science has already recognized ? And if it does submit 
to those conditions, why should its work become fruitless or 
worthless any more than the work of science ? We can see, 
indeed, that it is not so. There are no longer Platonist and 
Aristotelian schools, but Plato and Aristotle are more exactly 
studied, more truly honoured and revered, than they ever 
were in the days when men blindly worshipped them. 
The same is true, though less conspicuously true, of the great 



names of more modern times. Kant certainly has disciple 
who may be called after his name ; but that would be a very 
shallow estimate which should reckon the power of Kant in 
philosophy by the number of professed Kantians in the world. 
For the work done by Kant was not that he established this 
and that proposition about the mental mechanism of percep 
tion and thought, but that he announced the entry of philo 
sophy into her critical age. His own application of the critical 
method may or may not be correct, it may or may not be 
complete ; but his work stands nevertheless. Ardent and 
strenuous thinkers began to strive against it when it was 
barely finished ; they have striven ever since to find some 
form in which dogmatic philosophy could be revived, and 
they have all striven in vain. The harvest of the Critique of 
Pure Reason is reaped by hundreds and thousands who 
know nothing of the Categories and Antinomies. It is not 
systems that make the life of philosophy, but the ideas of 
which systems are the perishable framework ; and the phi 
losopher s place among his fellows is determined not by 
counting the heads of those who accept his system as a whole, , 
but by the strength and fruitfulness of the ideas which he y 
sets astir in men s minds. 

In every scheme of philosophy, then, which is worth 
serious consideration, there is a vital core of ideas embodied 
in a frame of more or less artificial construction. It is the 
task of the history of philosophy to trace from generation to 
generation the life and growth of these underlying ideas ; to 
disengage them from their local and temporary incidents ; 
and thereby to keep a clear pathway for the work of philoso 
phy itself. This is the spirit in which we would fain approach 
that splendid effort of constructive genius which Spinoza has 
left us in his Ethics ; not with a minute curiosity seeking 
for mere curiosity s sake to retrace each individual stone 
of his building to the quarry whence he may have hewn it, 
nor yet with the incurious and barren admiration which 

G 2 


forgets that even the loftiest genius is conditioned by the 
materials given to the workman s hand. It has been said of 
Spinoza that his theory was after all but a system, and that 
like all other systems it has passed away never to come back. 
Such a charge, if a charge it be, we can freely afford to admit. 
Spinoza did not seek to found a sect, and he founded none. 
Nay, we will go farther ; it is at least doubtful whether a 
single person can be named who has accepted the system of 
the Ethics in all points as it stands. But that is because 
Spinoza s mind is above the level of the people who hunger 
and thirst after systems ; and for that very reason the thought 
of Spinoza s Ethics has slowly but surely interpenetrated 
the thought of the world, and even now works mightily in it, 
while other systems welcomed in their own day as new reve 
lations are now in very truth past and forgotten. Or are 
we to go, perchance, in search of systems which have not 
passed away ? Assuredly such are to be found : they drag 
on their barren life, a fixed monotony of centuries, in the 
schools of Brahmans and Buddhists and Confucians, who 
have drained off the life-giving words of their ancient masters 
into labyrinthine canals and stagnant pools. There in the 
overteemed East is the limbo of unchangeable systems, pre 
served from the fertilizing breath of change by a universal 
inertia. If Spinoza s philosophy were identical, as not a few 
shallow critics have fancied, with Indian pantheism or indif- 
ferentism, then Spinozism would be an existing, unchanged, 
and unshaken system ; but such an existence and such 
security are the death of philosophy. 

In order to consider the origin and growth of Spinoza s 
philosophical ideas, it will be necessary to anticipate to some 
extent our account of his finished doctrine. The first and 
leading idea in Spinoza s philosophy the only part of it, in 
fact, which has at all entered into the notion commonly formed 
of his system is that of the unity and 

w 9 r M- Nature, as conceived by him, includes thought no less 


than things, and the order of nature knows no interruption. 
Again, there is not a world of thought opposed to or inter 
fering with a world of things ; we have everywhere the j>ame 
reality under different aspects. Nature is one as well as uni 
form. Now there is a thing to be well marked about this 
conception of Spinoza s ; it is itself two-sided, having an ideal 
or_ speculative, and a physical or scientific aspect. On the 
one hand we find a line of reasoning derived from the meta 
physical treatment of theology ; in other words, a philosophy 
starting from the consideration of the nature and perfection of 
God. On the other hand, we find a view of the existing universe 
guarded by the requirements of exact natural science, so 
that the philosopher who follows this track is bound over to 
see that his speculation, whatever flights it may take, shall at 
all events not contradict physics. The combination of these \ 
two elements is one of the most characteristic features of I 
Spinoza s philosophy. No one had before him attempted I 
such a combination with anything like the same knowledge 
of the conditions of the task. Few have even after him been 
so courageous and straightforward in the endeavour. The 
pjmthejsJ; or mystical element, as we may call it (though 
both terms are ambiguous and liable to abuse), is not merely 
placed beside the scientific element, but fused into one with 
it. Here, then, is a twofold root of Spinoza s conception of 
the universe, and each branch of it calls for an account of the 
soil that nourished it. 

The greater part of Spinoza s Ethics is occupied with 
I the application of his general ideas to investigating the nature 
of man. The body and the mind are not treated as two se 
parate entities working upon one another, much less is the 
one allowed to be the product of the other. Mind and body 
are in truth one and the same. That which is mind to the 

inner sense fs (or if accessible would be) body to the outer 
sense. There is no mind without body ; but also there is no 
body without mind. Physical and mental events run exactly 


parallel to one another ; the physical sequence cannot inter 
fere with the mental sequence, or the mental with the phy 
sical, just because they are two sides of the same thing. Such 
is the metaphysical theory which determines Spinoza s psy 
chology. It is implied in, and directly deduced from, his 
general view of the world ; but it is convenient to speak of it 
separately, for reasons which will appear, as the monistic. 


When he comes to human actions, Spinoza regards them 
as a particular case of the operation of universal causes. 
Every living thing has appetite, an impulse making for certain 
ends and determined by the tendency or effort (conatus) of all 
things towards self-preservation, which effort is given by the 
very fact that the individual thing does exist as such. When 
appetite as thus understood is conscious, it becomes desire. 
With this fundamental idea Spinoza works out an account of 
the passions which is by general consent his masterpiece, 
and which even now may be said to stand unsurpassed. In 
the ethical field of action also the self-preserving effort is the 
ultimate fact of life. The foundation of virtue is no other 
than the effort to maintain one s own being, and man s hap 
piness consists in the power of so doing. 1 That is the first 
law of our moral nature in the scientific sense of law ; it is a 
universal fact which must be faced and reckoned with. But 
this does not lead to a system of selfishness. For man is 
known by experience to be a social animal, and this is no less 
a law of his being. Thus he can maintain his being only in 
society. As an individual living in society, and unable 
to be solitary if he would, he must preserve society in order to 
preserve himself; or rather the preservation and welfare 
of society are his only true preservation and welfare. Thus 
the foundation of morality is essentially social. To this element 
of Spinoza s doctrine we shall refer as the idea of natural 
law. The choice of that term will explain itself hereafter. 

1 Eth. 4. 1 8, Schol. 


We need not say anything thus early of Spinoza s follow 
ing out of this idea in politics. Of the last part of the 
* Ethics we shall, only say here that, notwithstanding its place 
in the finished work, it is in the main to be assigned to what 
we have called the mystical element in the principles of Spi 
noza s philosophy, and is to be explained, so far as it may be 
capable of historical explanation, by reference to the same 
sources. The interpretation is, however, difficult at best : 
the result I have myself arrived at after much doubt will be 
submitted to the reader in its due order. 

This division enables us to give at once in a summary 
way some kind of introductory general notion of what is at 
present known or surmised about the birth and growth of 
Spinoza s philosophical ideas. 

The pantheist or mystical element is traceci to the medi 
aeval Jewish philosophers, with whose works we know that 
Spinoza was familiar. This is to some extent matter of direct 
evidence. A claim has also been put in, and with likelihood 
practically amounting to certainty, for Giordano Bruno. Now 
Bruno himself was subject in certain ways to Oriental influ 
ences, while the Jewish and Arabic schools of the Middle 
Ages were again strongly imbued with Neo-Platonism, and 
Neo-Platonism in turn has a semi- Oriental character. It 
seems impossible, even if it were worth while, to disen 
tangle all the details. But it remains sufficiently clear, what 
ever theory we may adopt, that the East has a considerable 
share in this portion of Spinoza s materials. 

The scientific element may be assigned without hesitation 
to Descartes, though Spinoza carried out the scientific view of 
the world farther and more vigorously than Descartes himself 
But as regards its union with the mystical element it is ma 
terial to remark that a nascent scientific impulse runs through 
the naturalism of the Renaissance philosophy as represented 
by Bruno and others ; and thus the line of contact was in a 
manner already traced. 


The monistic element is given by reaction from the 
dualism of Cartesian philosophy, and determined chiefly, as 
I think, by considerations of a scientific order. The pantheist 
idea may also have its part. But we can strike no exact 
account between the two, for Spinoza had completed the 
fusion of the mystical and the scientific principles before he 
settled his monism in its final form. 1 

The idea of natural law remains, and is the most inde- 
Ypendent work of Spinoza s genius. Ideas and suggestions of 
a general kind he had from Descartes, and a good deal of more 
definite material from Hobbes, who is in fact his master in 
politics ; and there is an extraordinary amount of resemblance 
to Stoic doctrine, suggestive at the first glance of imitation. 
But closer attention will show that such a supposition presents 
greater difficulties than that of coincidence. 

It would seem, if the foregoing statement can be accepted, 
that the really practical part of Spinoza s philosophy, that 
by which it is now operative and keeps hold on men s living 
interests, is also the part which is most peculiarly his own. I 
am aware that such a conclusion may not be free from uncon 
scious bias, nor is it to be assumed that historical criticism 
has said its last word. It is certain that critics have hitherto 
busied themselves much more with the metaphysical than 
with the ethical part of Spinoza s system ; and it is yet to 
be seen whether the revival of interest in ethical problems 
which has lately shown itself may not be fruitful in this 
region. It may be, though such is not my own judgment, 
that if little has been found here, it is because there has been 
little search. In the meantime I can only beg the reader to 
use his own diligence in verifying whatever is advanced. 

First let us take in its purely speculative aspect the idea 
of the nature of things as one and uniform. Much light 
has been thrown on the growth of this idea in Spinoza s mind 

1 This appears from the advance of the Ethics on the Tractatulus de Deo et 
Homine (see next note) in that respect. 


by the discovery of his unpublished Essay on God and 
Man. l The date of its composition is only approximately 
known, nor is the work itself a uniform whole. On the one 
hand it must be earlier than any of Spinoza s other writings, 
and the absence of any mention of it in the letters goes to show 
that by 1661 at latest it was for Spinoza himself a superseded 
work. On the other hand it was written originally in Latin, 
and therefore after he had mastered the language under Van 
den Ende, and it shows familiarity with Descartes. We shall 
probably not be far wrong in placing it about the time of 
Spinoza s excommunication. Possibly the essay or some 
portions of it, privately circulated among friends, may have 
been the abominable heresies which he taught. Compared 
with the Ethics or even with the earlier treatise on the 
Amendment of the Understanding, it is a brilliant but im 
mature performance. Inasmuch as we possess the Ethics/ 
the essay has only a historical value, but that value is very 
great. It shows us the ferment and conflict of elements 
received from different quarters and not yet subdued to their 
places and proportions in a new structure. As to the matter 
now in hand, it gives positive proof that Spinoza really 
worked out his metaphysic by starting in the first instance 
from theology, and did not first conceive his metaphysic and 
then clothe it in theological terms. In psychology and 
everything that has a scientific bearing he was still dominated 
by Descartes when he wrote the essay. Not that he even 
then adopted the Cartesian doctrines. 

He was struggling, but as yet without a perfectly fixed 
aim, to work out for himself the reconciliation of Cartesian 
analysis with a priori speculation. The leaders of mediaeval 
Jewish thought had endeavoured to recast their theology in 

1 See the account of Spinoza s works in the Introduction, and the monographs 
on this essay there cited. It is preserved only in an indifferently executed Dutch 
version, which seems to have been made in the early part of the eighteenth century. 
The original title, rendered by Korte Verhandeling van God, den mensch, en 
deszelfs welstand, was probably Tractatidus de. Deo et Homine eiiisque Felicitate. 


an Aristotelian mould given them by the philosophic culture 
of their time. Spinoza in turn, beginning where they had 
left off, set himself to refashion their handiwork with the 
instruments furnished by Descartes. But he took up the 
work with the resolve to carry it through at all costs, and the 
result was that both matter and method became transformed 
in his hands. It must remain doubtful, I think, whether 
Spinoza himself was ever fully aware of the amount of the 
transformation he had effected, especially as regards his theo 
logical premisses. He could not have been what he was 
without the Jewish doctors or without Descartes, but his 
philosophy is neither Cartesian nor Jewish. 

The essay likewise gives to my mind strong reasons 
against holding (though it is commonly assumed as if it were 
certain) that Spinoza was ever actually a Cartesian. For 
though as to certain parts it is Cartesian in language and 
arrangement, in those very parts the essay enunciates anti- 
Cartesian doctrine even more pointedly than the Ethics 
afterwards did. Not only is it denied that sorrow and the 
passions derived from it can ever be useful whereas Descartes 
says that sorrow is in a manner even more necessary for men 
than joy but all passions whatever, except the divine love, 1 
and, in a qualified sense, one or two others of the more 
active kind, are repudiated as unworthy of the philosophic 
life. If Spinoza was a Cartesian at any time it must have 
been before the essay was written ; and moreover he could 
not have become a Cartesian without utterly breaking with 
the Jewish philosophic traditions, on whose lines, however, or at 
any rate from out of them, he is working in the essay. We 
should be driven to suppose, then, that Spinoza broke with 
Jewish literature to take up Descartes, and becoming dis 
satisfied with Descartes, turned back again to the Jewish 
authors. 2 But violent oscillations of this kind are not in 

1 In treating this as a passion the Essay differs from the Ethics. 

2 This is in fact the theory of Dr. Joel. He puts the supposed return to 


Spinoza s character, to say nothing of the time between 
Spinoza s introduction to Descartes and his composition of 
this essay being too short to afford room for them. And 
even so the essay should present to us, not a juxtaposition of 
non-Cartesian metaphysic and Cartesian psychology, but 
modified Cartesian doctrine throughout. And this it certainly 
does not. I conclude, therefore, not only that Spinoza was 
not solely dependent on Descartes, but that he was never a 
Cartesian at all. 1 

The argument of the essay starts, in a purely a priori 
manner, from the nature and attributes of God. The absolute 
uniformity of nature, and the implied rejection of final causes, 
are deduced from the consideration of his freedom and per 
fection. The universe is governed by divine laws, which, 
unlike those of man s making, are immutable, inviolable, and 
an end to themselves, not instruments for the attainment of 
particular objects. The love of God is man s only true good. 
From other passions we can free ourselves, but not from love, 
because for the weakness of our nature we could not subsist 
without the enjoyment of something that may strengthen us 
by our union with it. Only the knowledge of God will enable 
us to subdue the hurtful passions. This, as the source of all 
knowledge, is the most perfect of all ; and, inasmuch as all 
knowledge is derived from the knowledge of God, we may 
know God better than we know ourselves. This knowledge in 
turn leads to the love of God, which is the soul s union with 
him. The union of the soul with God is its second birth, and 
therein consist man s immortality and freedom. 

The detachment from ordinary cares and interests in 
which the essay makes man s happiness to consist is carried 
so far as to approach quietism. A great contrast is presented 
to Spinoza s later manner in such passages as the following, 

Jewish philosophy as late as the composition of the Tractates Theologico~ 
Politicus, in which he finds the occasion for it. 

1 The same conclusion has been arrived at by Dr. Avenarius in his very care 
ful discussion of Spinoza s philosophical development. 


which occur in the description of Hate. It is said to be pro 
duced, in common with other passions, by false opinion. 

Hate is the right contrary to love, and ariseth from the 
delusion that is begotten of mere opinion. For when a man 
hath concluded concerning such and such a thing that it is 
good, and another comes and doth somewhat to the prejudice 
of the same, then the first conceives hate against him so doing. 
The which should have no place in him if the true good were 
known, as we shall show hereafter. For all that is or may be 
thought of is in comparison with the true good [the love of God] 
nothing but mere wretchedness, and is not he that so affects 
wretched things much more worthy of pity than of hate ? l 

In the Ethics the ordinary pleasures and amenities of 
life, though not exclusive or sufficient objects of a reasonable 
man s pursuit, nor to be lamented for when they are not 
attainable, are treated as something very different from mere 
wretchedness. And we shall see that the love of God, 
though still presented as the crown and perfect state of the 
human mind, acquires a much more intellectual character, if 
indeed it can be at all distinguished from pure speculative 

It appears therefore that the theological element, however 
transformed subsequently, may claim the right of primogeni 
ture among Spinoza s ideas. We shall be pursuing an order 
not only historical in point of actual chronology, but just and 
fitting with regard to the probable history of Spinoza s thought, 
if we first turn our attention to the Jewish doctors of the middle 
ages who brought a philosophical treatment to bear upon 
theological problems. 

Partly coinciding in time with Catholic scholasticism, but 
with their rise and culminating period nearly a century earlier, 
a series of Jewish philosophers in Spain, Provence, and the 
East, did work which has a far more important place in the 
general history of philosophy than has commonly been allowed 

1 Korte Verhandeling) part ii. cap. 3. 


to it. The task they set themselves was the same in kind as 
that of the schoolmen, who, in spite of religious difference, 
joined hands with them on the common ground of Aristotle, 
and used their work with open acknowledgment and respect. 
They strove, in one word, to systematize theology on an 
Aristotelian footing. For this purpose it was necessary 
to embark on a critical and philosophical interpretation of 
Scripture ; and in this undertaking the comparatively 
undefined character of Jewish orthodoxy secured them a 
certain amount of freedom. 1 Or rather philosophy presented 
itself to Jewish speculation as an enlightened interpretation 
of the hidden meaning of the law. Thus Moses ben Maimon 
and Ibn Ezra were leaders in biblical criticism no less than in 
philosophy. The ideas they put forward in this field weie to 
be carried out to their full development in the Tractatus 
Theologico-Politicus. Spinoza s object is indeed opposite to 
that of Maimonides. So far from finding philosophy in the 
Scriptures, he maintains that it is idle to seek it there ; and 
the sharpness of his criticism on Maimonides artificial system 
of interpretation has probably distracted attention from that 
which they really have in common. Maimonides work was con 
tinued by Levi ben Gerson, or Gersonides (born at Bagnal in 
Provence in 1288, living in 1340), who, professing to be a mere 
interpreter of the Scriptures and to rely on them as the source 
of every kind of knowledge, was at the same time more 
thoroughly Aristotelian than his predecessors. His dis 
covery of Aristotelian metaphysics in the Song of Solomon 
was probably the extreme feat of the Jewish theologico- 
philosophical dialectic. 

1 The Mahometan schools enjoyed the same advantage. Strictly speaking, 
neither Judaism nor Islam have any dogmatic theology at all. At the same time 
there must have been in practice a good deal of restraint. Maimonides expressly 
warns his readers that on many points he will be deliberately obscure ; and Ibn 
Ezra could only hint with elaborate mystery that the Canaanite was then in the 
land could not have been the language of Moses generation. The intervals o( 
absolute silence in his commentary on Isaiah are even more significant. 


The influence of these writers is most marked in the 
Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, with which we are not 
immediately concerned in this place. In the purely philo 
sophical part of Spinoza s work it was comparatively slight : 
it is perhaps not too much to say that there are only traces of 
it in the Ethics, apart from the doctrine of the mind s eter 
nity in the fifth part, which I believe comes from the Averro- 
ists through Gersonides. Still the points of affinity are notable. 
The following are specimens of those which may be found in 
Maimonides great work, the More Nebuchim. l 

The will and the wisdom of God are regarded as insepar 
able. And not only is there no real distinction between the 
divine attributes, but no attribute whatever can be predicated 
of God in the ordinary sense. Even eternity and existence, 
as applied to him, are not synonymous, but merely homonymous 
with the same terms in any other application. 2 This, however, 
is by no means peculiar to Maimonides ; it is a common 
possession of the scholastic writers, and is distinctly enounced 
in the treatise on mystical theology which bears the name of 
Dionysius the Areopagite. Probably it might be traced much 
farther back by any one conversant with Neo-Platonism. The 
application of the principle to God s knowledge as distinguished 
from man s was strenuously disputed by Levi ben Gerson. 

The existence of God is involved in his essence ; other 
wise of the existence of any finite creature, which may be 
considered as an accident in the logical sense. 3 

God coexists with the creation as its cause in actu, not as 
a cause in potentia, which precedes the effect in time. 4 

1 Edited by Dr. Munk, sub tit. Le Guide des Egarcs, with literal French trans 
lation, i 

2 Cap. 56, and elsewhere. 

3 Capp. 57, 58. 

4 Cap. 69. One may be allowed to note (though not here relevant) 
Maimonides answer to the standing question why the world, if created in time, 
was created at one time rather than another. He says it is just like asking why 
there exists a certain number, neither more nor less, of individuals of any kind 
e.g. the fixed stars. 


Perfect intellect forms no conception of good and evil, only \ 
of true and false. Such was the first state of Adam. Good ) 
and evil belong to the region of probable opinion. 1 

Dr. Joel also calls attention to Maimonides reflections on 
final causes as being fitted to prepare the way for Spinoza s 
entire rejection of them. 2 Maimonides holds that the con 
ceptions of design and final cause have no intelligible applica 
tion except as regards things created in time. 

ChasdaiCreskas of Barcelona, and afterwards of Saragossa, 
who lived in the latter part of the fourteenth and early part 
of the fifteenth century, was a more daring and original 
thinker than his predecessors, though to a certain extent 
in the interest of orthodoxy. He broke with the Peripatetic 
tradition to strike out an independent line of his own, and 
Dr. Joel s research has shown that he stands in a closer rela 
tion to Spinoza than any other of the Jewish philosophers./ 
His principal work, the Light of the Lord (Or Adonai), 
finished in 1410, contains many things which come near to 
characteristic points of Spinoza s philosophy. Some of these 
points are already well developed. 

He censures as fallacious the notion of infinite extension 
being made up of measurable parts (cf. Spinoza, Eth. i. 15 
schol., Ep. 29) : he also holds matter to be eternal, the act v 
of creation consisting only in the ordering of it ; and maintains 
that the material world, being good in its kind (which he 
takes, I presume, as a/truth known by revelation), participates 
in the Divine natur/. The contrast of this with the Cartesian 
theory of substances distinct in genere probably had something 
to do with Spinoza s conception of extension as an attribute 
coequal with thought. 

Again, the perfection of God consists not in knowledge, as 
the Aristotelians say, but in love. This love is what deter 
mines God to creation, as at the same time a necessity of his 

1 Cap. 2. 

2 Zur Genesis der Lehre Spinoza s (in fieitrage zur Gesch. der Philos.). 


nature and an act of will. Love being the chief attribute of 
v /God, the perfection of any creature depends on the extent to 
which it shares therein : thus the love of God (for its own sake, 
not as a means of salvation) is the chief end of man. We have 
already had occasion to see what an important part is assigned 
to this in the essay On God and Man which preceded 
Spinoza s Ethics. 

Most remarkable of all, perhaps, is Chasdai s thorough 
determinism. He explicitly denies that any event, whether 
depending on human choice or not, can be called possible or 
contingent in an absolute sense. It is inconceivable, he says, 
that two men, being themselves of like temper and character, 
and having before them like objects of choice in like circum 
stances, should choose differently. Volitions are determined 
by motives as much as anything else in nature is determined. 
/ An act of free will is free in so far as it is not compelled, but 
\pecessary in so far as it is not uncaused. The argument on 
this topic seems to be fully worked out, and to deal with most 
of the points that have been made in later controversy on the 
subject. The fallacy of fatalism, for example, is clearly 
enough exposed. The objector who says, If all things that 
happen are necessary, why do men take pains to compass 
their ends ? forgets that things are necessary only with refer 
ence to their conditions, and that in the case of human 
undertakings forethought and labour are among the conditions. 
Reward and punishment, as the consequences of good and 
bad actions, are themselves part of the necessary order of 
things. If it is asked, How is it just that the wicked should 
be punished, if their wickedness is necessary? Chasdai an 
swers, with Zeno before him and Spinoza after him, that their 
punishment is necessary too. Reward and punishment, 
commands and prohibitions, are nevertheless ordained by 
Providence as means to lead men to salvation. The love of 
God is man s chief good, even as love is God s own perfection : 
and therefore the fore-ordained sanctions are attached to 



those actions and thoughts which are free in the popular 
sense, that is, which are determined by a state of mind in 
volving the love of God or its contrary. 

Chasdai holds fast, it must be remembered, to the idea of 
designed order in the universe, though final causes in the 
ordinary sense are as it were swallowed up in the absolute, 
self-sufficient necessity by which God s love manifests itself. 
He likewise holds fast to the necessity of revelation, and goes 
so far as to say that the fundamental doctrine of the unity of 
God could not be otherwise known. Thus he cannot be 
regarded as a forerunner of Spinoza s system. Spinoza took 
the suggestions in detail and worked them into a systematic 
connexion of his own which would probably have found little 
favour in Chasdai s eyes. 

Chasdai Creskas deserves to be remembered, apart from 
his probable influence on Spinoza, as one of the first who 
ventured to attack the prevalent Aristotelian dogmatism. His 
motives appear to have been purely theological ; the artificial 
constructions forced on Scripture by the school of Ben Maimon 
and Ben Gerson were repugnant both to his reason and to his 
faith. When theologians fall out philosophy sometimes comes 
by her own. For Spinoza s knowledge of Chasdai s work we 
have the direct evidence of one express quotation l (Ep. 29, 
ad fin,). 

A word must also be said of the mystical literature which 
exercised an even greater influence on modern Judaism than 
the Aristotelian philosophy, and whose later development was 
due, according to one high authority, 2 to a reaction against 
the rationalism of the philosophic writers. The possible 
influence of the Kabbalah on Spinoza has been discussed 

Verum hie obiter adhuc notari velim, quod Peripatetici recentiores, ut quidem 
puto, male intellexerunt demonstrationem veterum, qua ostendere nitebantur Dei 
existentiam. Nam ut ipsam apud Judaeum quendam, Rab Ghasdai vocatum, 
reperio, sic sonat. .... The passage is identified by Dr. Joel (Don Chasdai 
Creskas Religionsphilosophische Lehren, etc., p. 9). 
2 Dr. Gratz, in Gesch. der Juden, vol. vii. 



from time to time ever since Spinoza s writings have been an 
object of notice to the learned world. One of his earliest 
critics, J. E. Wachter, endeavoured to trace his principal 
doctrines to that quarter : l and others in later times, without 
going so far as to ascribe to the Kabbalists the chief share in 
Spinoza s philosophical genealogy, have claimed for them a 
more or less considerable one. In order to put this question 
on a rational footing it is very necessary to distinguish between 
the Kabbalah properly so called, which dates from the 
thirteenth century, and the older mystical traditions which 
the Kabbalists deliberately confounded with their own fan 
tastic speculations in order to give themselves an apparent 
sanction of antiquity. The later Kabbalah, starting from 
an idealist theology and cosmology expressed in highly 
symbolic language, rapidly became overwhelmed by its own 
anthropomorphic symbolism, and overran all Jewry with 
demonology, thaumaturgy, and other wild fancies beyond 
measure ; for all which the professors of this so-called philo 
sophy found warrant in Scripture by trifling and wearisome 
schemes of non- natural interpretation, anagrammatic readings, 
arbitrary transpositions and substitutions of letters, allegorical 
and other occult meanings, virtues of numbers, and the like. 
The greatest play was made with the numerical values of 
words and letters, a method which has to some extent found 
its way into Christian theology also. The metaphysical 
foundations of the system appear to have been derived by 
some road not fully known from Neo-Platonism, and it is said 
by the best authorities that the very terms bear marks of 
imitation from the Greek. The doctrine of emanations and 
intermediate powers between God and the world was laid 
hold of in order to have a philosophic standing-ground against 
Maimonides and the rationalists, and at the same time to 
preserve tradition and ritualism in their literal significance. 

1 Der Spinozismus im Judenthumb, 1699. Ehiddarius Cabbalisticus, 1706. 
See Van der Linde, Bibliogr, No. 274. 


In Spinoza s generation this system had attained its fullest 
and most extravagant development : and it seems to have 
become by that time the most unmitigated nonsense ever put 
together by the perverted ingenuity of man, except perhaps 
the English law of real property. In its application to cere 
monial observances it was little else than a mass of ludicrous 
or disgusting puerilities. Its fruits were seen in the outbreaks 
of delusion and imposture culminating in the exploits of the 
false Messiah, Sabbatai Zevi, of which mention has already 
been made in a former chapter. Such a doctrine, we may 
be sure, had little attraction for Spinoza ; and in an age when 
historical criticism did not exist he would scarcely have had 
the patience to search the rubbish-heap for the jewels that 
might be buried in it. He has indeed left us in no doubt as 
to his opinion of the Kabbalists of his time. For he says in 
the ninth chapter of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus : I 
have read and moreover known some Kabbalistic triflers, at 
whose follies I was astonished beyond description. 

It is hardly worth while to insist on the differences between 
Spinoza and the Kabbalah. The doctrines of emanation and 
the transmigration of souls are both fundamental in the 
Kabbalistic account of the world, and are both utterly in 
compatible with Spinoza s metaphysic. 

But on the other hand Spinoza twice refers, in passages oF^) 
marked importance and in a tone of respect, though in vague / 
terms, to ancient Hebrew opinions and traditions ; and these V 
references may with some plausibility be assigned to the earlier / 
mysticism which undoubtedly preceded the modern Kabbalah^ 
and was afterwards confused with it. Only an accomplished 
Orientalist can be entitled to a positive opinion on the sources 
and antiquity of these speculations. But all mysticism is 
Eastern in its ultimate origin, and the choice would seem to 
be substantially between holding that the Jewish mysticism was 
indirectly derived from the East through Neo-Platonism and the 
Alexandrian schools, or that it came, as we know that modern 

H 2 


Jewish theology came, earlier and more directly from the old 
rf Persian religion, in which case Jewish and Alexandrian 
mysticism would be related to one another, not in a direct 
line of descent, but as parallel and partly intermixed streams 
from the same fountain-head. The question is hardly a pro 
per one to be pursued here, even if I were qualified for the 
undertaking. But it is easy to see that, apart from the evi 
dence of actual coincidences, which in a case of this kind is 
difficult to fix at its true value, the last mentioned opinion has 
a strong antecedent probability in its favour : and even a 
stranger to Oriental literature may be permitted to appreciate 
the weight of M. Franck s arguments for it. 

The allusions in Spinoza are the following. 

In the Scholium to the seventh Proposition of the Second 
Part of the Ethics he says : A mode of extension [i.e. a finite 
material thing] and the idea of that mode are one and the 
same thing, but expressed in two ways ; which certain of the 
Hebrews seem to have seen as through a cloud, when they 
say that God, the understanding of God, and the things 
understood by him are one and the same. Now this is dis 
tinctly said in the commentary of Moses of Cordova on the 
Kabbalistic book Zohar. It is to be known that the know 
ledge of the Creator is not as that of his creatures. For in 
these knowledge is distinct from the subject of knowledge, and 
is directed upon objects which in their turn are distinguished 
from the subject. This is denoted by these three terms : 
thought, that which thinks, and that which is thought of. But 
the Creator, on the contrary, is himself at once knowledge 
and that which knows and that which is known. His manner 
of knowledge consists not in applying his thought to things 
outside him; in the knowledge of himself he knows and 
perceives all that exists. Nothing exists which is not united 
to him or which he finds not in his own substance. l The 

1 Franck, La Kabbale, pp. 27, 194 ; Sigwart, Spinoza s Neuentdeckter 
Tractat, &c., p. ioo. The book Zohar itself, the great armoury of the Kabbalists, 


coincidence is striking, and it is quite possible that Spinoza 
had read Moses of Cordova. But then it is quite certain 
that Spinoza had read and digested the Kabbalist s far greater 
namesake Moses ben Maimon. And the same thought is 
even more fully and distinctly expressed in a chapter of Mai- 
monides masterpiece, to which Spinoza makes on another 
point an unmistakable reference elsewhere. 1 The chapter 
opens thus : * Thou knowest the famous proposition laid down 
by philosophers concerning God, to wit that he is intellect, 
the intelligent, and the intelligible, and that these three things 
in God make but one and the same thing, wherein is no mul 
tiplicity. And again at the end of the chapter : Hence (from 
God being intellect always in actu, never in potentia like the 
knowledge of finite minds) it follows that he is constantly and 
perpetually intelligent, intellect, and intelligible ; it is his very 
essence that is intelligent, it is the same that is the intelligible, 
and still the same that is intellect, as must be the case with 
all intellect in act. Maimonides himself is here following 
Ibn-Sina, and the idea is ultimately derived from Aristotle. 
Thus we have a warning of some significance against jumping 
at simple coincidences in matters of this kind. It is practi 
cally certain that Spinoza had in his mind the passage of 
Maimonides ; he may or may not have also had before him 
the adaptation of it by Moses of Cordova to a purpose 
superficially like Spinoza s own. 

The other passage to be considered is in a letter to Olden 
burg (Ep. 21). 

4 1 hold God for the immanent cause, as they say, of all 
things, not the transient. That all things have their being 
and move in God, I affirm with Paul, and perhaps I may say 
with all the ancient philosophers, though in another form ; I 

is finally ascertained by recent criticism to be a forgery of the thirteenth century. 
Gratz, op. tit. vol. vii. note 12. 

1 More Nebuchim, part i. c. 68 (vol. i. p. 301 in Munk s translation, and see 
j his note) ; Spinoza, Cogitate, Metaphysica^ pt. ii. c. 6, 3. 



might even make bold to say, with all the ancient Hebrews, 
so far as one may guess from certain traditions, though they 
be in many ways corrupted. The traditions here mentioned 
might well belong to the metaphysical kernel of the Kabbalah, 
which Spinoza must, in common with all scholars of the time, 
have believed to be of great antiquity ; and the manifold cor 
ruptions of which he speaks would also fit very well with the 
vagaries of the later Kabbalists, and the opinion expressed of 
them in the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. But such a re 
ference is too vague to be much relied upon by itself ; and we 
have seen that the passage in Eth. ii. 7 gives it very little 

It is further to be observed that the Kabbalah was taken 
up with great ardour by Raymond Lull within the century 
of its birth, and thus obtained a partial currency in Christen 
dom ; and that it was eagerly studied by Pico de Mirandola, 
Reuchlin, and other scholars of the Renaissance, who, enter 
taining no doubt of the antiquity alleged for it, thought to find 
in it a venerable and authoritative confirmation of the Platonic 
or Neo-Platonic philosophy that prevailed among them. 

Giordano Bruno, whose relation to Spinoza will im 
mediately be considered, was probably not free from this in 
fluence. At all events the work of the Jewish Neo-Platonist 
Avicebron (Ibn-Gebirol) was known to him and freely used by 
him ; and thus we have yet another road by which the Neo- 
Platonic ideas may have found their way to Spinoza. Solomon 
Ibn-Gebirol, born at Cordova or Malaga about 1020, came at 
an unfortunate time for his philosophical reputation among 
his own people. His speculative writings, in which he closely 
followed Plotinus, were overwhelmed in the Peripatetic flood 
that was already rising before his death, and while he lived 
and still lives as a religious poet, 1 he was entirely forgotten as 

1 Den Gabirol, diesen treuen 
Gottgeweihten Minnesanger, 
Diese fromme Nachtigall, 
Deren Rose Gott gewesen. HEINE, Hcbrdische Mekdien. 


a philosophical writer. But his principal work had been 
translated into Latin under the name of * Fons Vitae, and 
was current among the schoolmen. The author s name was 
disguised under the Latinized form Avicebron, and he was set 
down without further inquiry, by a sort of unreasoned mental 
attraction, as belonging to the Arabic school headed by 
Averroes and Avicenna. The identity of Avicebron with Ibn- 
Gebirol was rediscovered only in our own day by the saga 
cious industry of the late Dr. Munk. The Fons Vitae, well 
known to the leaders of mediaeval philosophy, fell into the 
hands of Giordano Bruno, who as a Platonist of the Renais 
sance naturally received it in a much more kindred spirit than 
the Aristotelians. Bruno repeatedly cites Avicebron with ap 
proval, and there is much likeness in tne general strain of 
their speculations, which however may be due to the use of 
common sources. 

We have no direct evidence that Spinoza was acquainted 
with Giordano Bruno s writings ; but the want of such evi 
dence counts for very little. But for his reply in a letter to a 
friend s passing question, we should be in the same case as to 
Spinoza s knowledge of Hobbes ; yet his political theory is 
so evidently founded on that of Hobbes that the letter adds 
nothing to our certainty. At that time it was still the con 
stant practice for writers to make in silence such use of their 
predecessors work as in our day would be thought to demand 
the most ample acknowledgment. And in this particular 
case there was a special reason for silence, the same reason 
which probably accounts for Tschirnhausen s later omission of 
all reference to Spinoza himself. Any avowed following of 
Bruno would have been sure to excite the most violent pre 
judice even among Protestant readers. It was by no means at 
Catholic orthodoxy alone that Giordano Bruno had struck in 
his daring and unconfined speculations. We are free, then, to 
take at its full worth the internal evidence for Spinoza s know 
ledge of Bruno ; and it is of such strength as to carry all but 


irresistible conviction. Whether Spinoza had actually read 
Bruno s dialogues, or had become acquainted with their 
substance in some other way (for example, through Van den 
Ende), it is impossible with our present materials to decide. 

One is tempted to linger on the singular career and tragic 
fate of the man whose fame, crushed for awhile but not con 
sumed, has revived in our own day for the eternal dishonour 
of his persecutors. They who curse liberty and the advance 
ment of man s estate in our own day are true and worthy 
successors of those who burnt Giordano Bruno and were 
ready to torture Galileo. The philosopher and martyr of 
whom we now speak is at last fitly celebrated in the verse of one 
of our own poets, himself full of the spirit of the Renaissance, 
its ideal ardour for freedom, its impatience of authority in all 
forms, its height of speculative ambition, and its passionate 
love of beauty. But my task forbids me to enter on digressions, 
and I must proceed to notice the points of Bruno s philosophy 
which bear on the matter in hand. 

Bruno admits only one first principle, cause, or sub 
stance, in the universe. He is never tired of dwelling on the 
unity of all things, which he regards as a multiform unity 
embracing the whole and present in every part. He rejects 
the notion of formless matter, and maintains that jTia|jr_-aad. 
form are inseparable. Finite things differ from one another 
not in their being, but only in their mode of being, so that in 
|them the one substance is not diverse, but only diversely 
([fashioned and figured ; all things are in the universe, and the 
universe in all things. The study of nature seems to disclose 
two substances of mind and body, but further contemplation 
reduces them to one ; and the ultimate object of all philoso 
phy and science is declared (with an ironical reservation as to 
supernatural knowledge) to be the perception of this unity. 
In one dialogue the speaker who represents Bruno s own 
opinions asserts that the first principle is infinite in all its 
attributes, and that one of those attributes is extension (uno 


amplissimo dimensionale infinite). Again, it is animated, in 
asmuch as it includes all life as part of one and the same 
being : all particular lives are effects of the divine life present 
in all things, * Natura est deus in rebus. We find in Bruno 
the terms attribute and mode, used in a manner which, though 
it has not anything like Spinoza s precision, may very well 
have suggested Spinoza s adoption of the words. The con 
stant polemic against Aristotle is likewise worth noting ; if 
Spinoza was a reader of Bruno, his almost contemptuous view 
of Aristotle (p. 63 above) might be partly accounted for by 

In some of Bruno s writings much prominence is given to 
the identification of the highest kind of speculative knowledge 
with the love of God, or the one perfect object ; and the power 
and surpassing excellence of this ideal and intellectual love 
are dwelt upon with exuberant poetic fancy. Notwithstand 
ing the wide difference between Bruno s manner and Spinoza s, 
the thought and even the expressions are often strikingly 
like those of the Essay on God and Man. At the same time 
this topic is so much the common property of all mystic and 
mystically inclined writers that I can hardly think these re 
semblances add very much to the evidence of a specific con 
nexion between the two thinkers. It would be no great 
matter for surprise if an equally good parallel could be pro 
duced from the Persian Sufis, whom Spinoza certainly had 
not studied. Still, when the general probability of Spinoza s 
relation to Bruno is once established, all points of coincidence 
have a certain cumulative value, though each may in itself be 
capable of a different explanation. 

It has been suggested that Descartes also may have been 
indebted to Giordano Bruno, and there is nothing unlikely in 
it. Leaving this question aside as too remote, we must now 
turn to Descartes as the master who gave the most powerful 
and immediate impulse to Spinoza s thought in another 
direction. By him were nourished the exact method, the \ 


/ close analysis, the spirit of scientific curiosity, which we find 
in Spinoza s earliest writing side by side with the ardour of 
I universal contemplation, and in the Ethics interpenetrating 
V and transforming it. 

Part II. Descartes. 

The real merit of Descartes is not to be found in the 
particular novelties which he started in either natural or 
universal philosophy. His fundamental axiom in psychology, 
though first brought into full prominence by him, was not 
altogether new. His physical principles were unsatisfactory 
not only in themselves, but as compared with the results 
already arrived at by other workers to whom Descartes failed 
to do justice. They were indeed absolutely erroneous in 
many respects, as we shall presently have occasion to see. 
The amount of direct edification which a modern reader can 
get out of Descartes Principia Philosophiae is in truth ex 
ceedingly small. It is only in pure mathematics, where, as 
the undoubted creator of analytical geometry, he can claim 
his part in all its later achievements and extensions, that his 
contributions to man s positive knowledge have retained a 
permanent value. Yet the name of Descartes, notwithstand 
ing all the shortcomings of his actual performance, marks an 
epoch in the history of science and philosophy. His fame 
is great and justly won because he made a serious attempt to 
give an account of the world on a scientific plan, to apply the 
same method to the problems of outward and inward ex 
perience, and to combine the results into a consistent whole. 
He saw, with clearness and boldness then without parallel, 
that physiology was a branch of physical knowledge, and to 
be investigated on just the same principles as every other 
branch. He saw that philosophy must leave science alone 
with the things which pertain to science ; that the business of 
philosophy is not with the particulars which fall within the 


province of scientific inquiry, but with the interpretation of 
the facts of experience which for science are ultimate. We 
have no right to be offended or even surprised when his 
execution falls short of his intentions. He knew that he 
ought not to be imposed upon by words or dogmatic fictions, 
but it was only natural that he should in many cases be un 
consciously led away by them. There is another disturbing 
influence, unfortunately, which has to be allowed for in con 
sidering Descartes work as a whole ; I mean his attitude of 
extreme caution towards the Church. It is certain that he 
was much hampered by the danger of an open conflict with 
orthodoxy, which he was determined to avoid at almost any 
cost. As it was, all his astuteness was too little to save him 
self or his immediate followers from ecclesiastical hostility 
which was even more bitter in the Protestant Netherlands 
than in any part of the Catholic world, and which, though it 
never rose to the importance of a persecution, was able in 
various ways to inflict considerable inconvenience. It would 
be neither generous nor wise to ascribe Descartes hesitation 
and reticence in the face of these difficulties to mere personal 
timidity. He had a sincere aversion to controversies of this 
kind and a sincere dread of violent changes. He would have 
liked the Church to adopt modern science and philosophy ; 
failing that, he was content that they should be left unmo 
lested, and thought it no harm to secure immunity, if 
necessary, by silence on some points and transparent 
dissimulation on others. Certain apologetic passages in 
Descartes physical writings are as manifestly ironical as 
anything in Hume. Open defiance must have appeared to 
him an impracticable policy, and disastrous, if it had been 
practicable, both for society and for science itself. These 
questions, however, do not touch the physical side of Des 
cartes teaching, as to which there is no suspicion of reserve. 
And it was on this side, as I conceive, that Spinoza first 
approached him and felt his power. In Spinoza s earliest 


essay the psychology shows a reader of Descartes, but a reader 
very far from being a disciple ; the physics, on the other hand, 
are simply and solely Cartesian. 

Yet, while the influence of Descartes philosophical con 
ceptions on Spinoza has over and over again been discussed,, 
sometimes with exaggeration, sometimes with depreciation, 
the not less important and certainly more persistent influence 
of his physical conceptions has passed, so far as I am aware, 
almost without notice. 1 The very peculiar account of motion 
given by Descartes was not only repeated by Spinoza, as in 
duty bound, in his Principles of Cartesian Philosophy, but 
occurs in the Essay on God and Man/ and has left its traces 
in the Ethics. I venture to say that without going back to 
the Cartesian theory of dynamic Spinoza s account of the 
material world is not intelligible. 

We read in Spinoza of certain things immediately pro 
duced by God, which, though individual things, are infinite 
in their kind, and necessary in an eminent manner, as being 
coextensive with the attribute or aspect of existence to which 
they belong. What these things are is not stated in the 
Ethics ; the explanation must be sought partly in one of the 
later letters, partly in the early essay which has already 
come before us. 2 In this last the following explanation is 

1 As concerning Natitra naturata in general, that is, the 
modes or creatures which immediately depend on God or are 
created by him, of such we know two and no more ; namely, 
motions in matter, and understanding in the thinking thing. 
Of these we say that they have been from all eternity, and to 
all eternity shall remain unchangeable, a work verily as great 
as beseemed the greatness of the master-worker. 

1 Professor Sigwart, however, has indicated the point here discussed and its 
significance. Spinoza s Neucntdeckter Tractat, &c. Gotha, 1866, p. 49. 

2 Eth. i, propp. 21, 23, and 28, schol. ; Ep. 66, 8 ; Kovte Verhandeling, 
part i. cap. 9, to which there is an odd note, presumably by a transcriber, stating 
that the author really thought motion itself to be capable of further explanation. 


The subject of motion is not pursued, as more properly 
belonging to a treatise on natural science. Motion and 
understanding, the eternal and immutable creatures, are called 
by a startling Hebraism Sons of God. Indications of this 
kind have their value as showing that Spinoza was really 
striving to find a scientific interpretation for mystical con 
ceptions. Not less significant is the dispppearance of such 
language from the Ethics. We find it stated, again, that 
extended bodies differ from one another only in proportion 
of rest and motion ; and, what is still more extraordinary, 
we hear of a body being set in motion by the impact of an 
other body having motion greater than its rest. 1 In the Trac- 
tatus Theologico-Politicus (c. vii. 27) we read of res max- 
ime universales et toti naturae communes, videlicet motum et 
quietem, eorumque leges et regulas, which, though it might 
excite little attention by itself, is significant in connexion with 
other passages. And in a letter as late as 1675 he gives 
Motion and Rest as examples of the things immediately 
produced by God. Motion and Rest, then, were for Spinoza 
not relative terms describing the state of bodies with regard 
to each other, but in some sense and for some purposes real 
things. Indeed he all but defined Matter as Extension 
modified by Rest and Motion. 

For the key to these ideas we must look to the second 
part of Descartes Principia Philosophiae, closely followed by 
Spinoza himself in the professed exposition cf Cartesian doc 
trine which was his first published work. Descartes tells us 
that the nature of matter, or body generally considered, does 
not consist in hardness, weight, or any other sensible quality, 
but only in extension in three dimensions ; and that all matter 
is ultimately homogeneous ( in toto universo una et eadem 
existit ), and all the differences in its sensible properties de 
pend on differences of motion ( omnis materiae variatio, sive 

1 Korte Verh., part ii. note ad init. (I have no doubt that this note is Spinoza s 
own), and cap. 19 (pp. 49, 99 in Schaarschmidt s ed.). Cf. Ethics, 4, 39. 


omnium eius formarum diversitas, pendet a motu ). The re 
lative nature of motion is clearly enough pointed out ( nullum 
esse permanentem ullius rei locum, nisi quatenus a cogitatione 
nostra determinatur ), and the same illustration of it is given 
which has (no doubt independently) been repeated by Mr. 
Herbert Spencer ( First Principles, c. 3, 17). 

Thus far the modern reader may follow Descartes with 
admiration ; but then it is laid down that the quantity of 
motion in the universe is constant, a proposition which is de 
monstrated a priori from the perfection of God. We are to 
presume that God observes the utmost constancy in all his 
operations, and we must not suppose any changes in his works 
which are not actually known by experience or revelation. 
Hence we are to believe that in the beginning he created a 
certain quantity of motion and rest, and preserves them un 
changed : materiam simul cum motu et quiete in principio 
creavit, iamque per solum suum concursum ordinarium tan- 
tundem motus et quietis in ea tota, quantum tune posuit, con- 
servat. The addition of rest, as if that also were a real thing, 
is shown by the context to be merely rhetorical. Spinoza 
may have been misled by it, or his own language may be 
nothing but an excessive imitation of Descartes. It would 
seem, indeed, that Descartes himself was not free from con 
fusion on this point ; for some paragraphs later he speaks of 
motion as contrary to rest, and of speed as contrary to slow 
ness, in so far as such slowness partakes of the nature of 
rest. Spinoza, again, speaks elsewhere of finite existence as 
de nihilo participans, partaking of nullity ( Cogit. Met. pt. ii. 
c - 3> J) ; but he certainly did not regard Nothing as a real 
thing. Here, then, we have the conservation of motion laid 
down by Descartes as a first principle of physics, and 
taken over by Spinoza without question. The first remark 
that occurs on it is that, however we take the supposed prin 
ciple, it is not true ; and it is almost impossible to believe 
that the supposed proof of it was satisfying to the inventor 


himself. Yet Descartes had a perfectly distinct and right 
intention, and one may even say that he came near to a de 
finite truth. But unhappily he had not the patience to abstain 
from premature generalization ; he violated all the rules of 
sound scientific method, including his own maxims, and his 
haste led him into deep and irreparable error. He was added 
to the number of those mighty ones who in their search for 
the truth of things have, as Lucretius says, mightily fallen : 
graviter magno magni cecidere ibi casu. 

By quantity of motion Descartes meant what is now called 
momentum, a quantity measured by mass and velocity jointly. 
The term quantity of motion has indeed been preserved as 
a synonym for momentum in several modern books. Now 
velocity, and therefore momentum, is a quantity having 
direction as well as magnitude. It seems unaccountable that 
Descartes should have neglected to consider this, but he did 
neglect it. He took a sum of directed quantities all over the 
universe, in all directions indiscriminately, and asserted that 
it was constant : his proposition would symbolically be ex 
pressed thus 2 (mv) = C. This is not only untrue but 
unintelligible. For, motion and velocity being relative (as 
Descartes himself, strange to say, well knew), we are not told 
how the velocity is to be estimated. Descartes took no ac 
count whatever of direction, holding the nature of motion in 
itself to be something apart from its direction, which he calls 
j the determination of motion towards this or that part ; and 
this is further made clear by the application of his principle 
! which immediately follows. He considers various cases of the 
i collision of two bodies on the assumption that the total quan- 
; tity of motion must remain the same after the collision as 
i before ; and he treats the quantity as still being the same 
when the direction is reversed. The most curious confusion 
of all is that, after duly warning us that the two bodies in 
question must be regarded as an independent system ( a 
I reliquis omnibus sic divisa ut eorum motus a nullis aliis cir- 


cumiacentibus impedirentur nee iuvarentur ), he proceeds to 
speak of cases in which one of them is absolutely at rest, 
and other cases in which they are moving with different velo 
cities. The results he obtains are in part wholly wrong, in 
part such as might be theoretically true in a limiting and 
physically impossible case. Spinoza was apparently satisfied 
with all Descartes rules except one. (Ep. 15,1 10). 

Had Descartes attended to the truth that direction is in 
separable from momentum, he might have lighted upon the 
perfectly true proposition that momentum in a given direction 
is conserved. This is a corollary from Newton s Third Law 
of Motion, that action and reaction are equal and opposite. 
For, if any change took place in the momentum of a system 
resolved along any particular direction whatever, such change 
would be due to an inequality between action and reaction 
measured in that direction, which is what the third law of 
motion excludes. 1 But Newton s third law was unknown to 
Descartes ; and in truth its scope and importance have only 
in late years been redeemed from general neglect. Descartes, 
however, had a grand object in his speculations on the first 
principles of physics. He could not be expected to know 
that it was unattainable with the means at his command, and 
the importance of the conception may almost excuse his 
rashness in clutching at it and seizing a phantom. He was 
in search of a principle which should enable him to deal with 
the material universe as a machine self-acting and complete 
in itself. Given a certain disposition of matter and motion, 
the whole future series of phenomena was to be involved in 
it, and was to follow without any necessity for a renewal of 
interference from outside. Theological criticism was met, if 
not disarmed, by postulating an original creative act to endow 
the matter of the universe with its fixed quantity of motion. 
Descartes was in truth feeling about, without sufficient light, 

1 The proposition was also correctly enounced by Leibnitz : Opera Fhilo- 
s?phica (ed. Erdmann, Berlin, 1840), pp. 108, 133. 


for some such general doctrine as that which is now known as 
the Conservation of Energy ; and if it had been in the nature 
of things that the Conservation of Energy, or anything equi 
valent to it, should be either discovered or proved a priori, 
Descartes would in all probability have done it. His con 
temporaries were too much dazzled by the brilliance of his 
system to perceive its scientific weakness. Spinoza, full of 
the Hebrew conviction of the perfect unity of the divine 
nature and of its manifestations in the sensible world, and 
determined to carry that principle to its utmost consequences, 
found in Descartes a seeming demonstration, on grounds of 
scientific evidence, of that unity and uniformity in the phy 
sical world which speculation had already led him to expect, 
and it must have come upon him almost as a revelation. 

It is curious that Spinoza s language about Motion and 
Rest, derived as we have seen from the most confused and 
erroneous part of the Cartesian physics, is nevertheless in a 
manner capable of a rational interpretation. He is asked to 
name the particular things which are infinite in their kind, and 
necessary to the existence of finite things of the same kind. 
Matter he does not count as such (at least not in the first 
rank), though in his view the material universe may be 
considered as an individual whole no less than any part of it. 
Probably he regarded matter as nothing but figured exten 
sion ; and the visible universe, * facies totius universi, in 
volves change and motion. He names accordingly * motus et 
quies, as being, in the attribute of extension, the examples 
desired. Now if for motus we might read energy of motion, 
and for quies energy of position, we should have a fairly 
plausible result. Energy is, according to the notions of 
modern physics, the most fundamental property of the sen 
sible universe, coextensive with it, and necessary to every 
thing that happens in it. Every physical event may be 
regarded as a transference of energy. Again, though kinetic 
energy and potential energy, taken separately, are not con- 


stant, the sum of them is constant ; so that, if anything in 
the physical world is to be called infinite and immutable, 
Energy, taken as this sum, appears to have a good enough 
claim to the title. And thus (if we chose to disregard 
historical facts and conditions) we might find in Spinoza s 
dark saying a kind of prophetic vision, and assign to him 
the glory of having pointed the way to the latest generaliza 
tion of science. But this fancy would of course be wholly 
untenable ; first, because it was no more possible for Spinoza 
than for Descartes to arrive at the modern conception of the 
Conservation of Energy ; secondly, because we have fixed 
Spinoza s phrase to its only admissible meaning by tracing it 
to its Cartesian origin. Why then, it may be asked, do I go 
out of the way to suggest the possibility of such a fancy ? I 
reply that the example is not uninstructive as showing what 
caution must be used in assigning a meaning to obscure 
language in the philosophy of past generations, and how 
important it is, where practicable, to ascertain the history of 
the ideas and terms we have to do with. 

At the same time we have indications that towards the 
end of his life Spinoza had become deeply dissatisfied with 
the physical conceptions of Descartes. This appears by his 
last letters to Tschirnhausen (in the year 1676). Tschirn- 
hausen asks (Ep. 69) how Spinoza would prove a priori the 
existence of bodies figured and in motion, extension in the 
abstract being conceivable without any such thing. Spinoza 
makes answer thus : From extension as conceived by 
Descartes, that is, an inert mass (molem quiescentem), it is not 
only, as you say, difficult, but altogether impossible to prove the 
existence of bodies. For matter at rest will, so far as in it lies, 
persist in its rest, and will not be impelled to motion unless 
by a more powerful external cause, and for this reason I long 
ago did not hesitate to affirm that the Cartesian principles of 
natural philosophy are useless, not to say absurd/ Tschirn 
hausen replied that Descartes did not, in his opinion, profess to 


account for the existing material universe as a product of inert 
matter, since he supposes matter to have been animated with 
motion by a creative act. Spinoza was unable, probably by 
reason of increasing ill health, to keep up the discussion at any 
length. His rejoinder is in these terms : As to your question 
whether the variety of existing things can be proved a priori 
from the mere conception of extension, I think I have already 
sufficiently shown that it is impossible ; and that therefore 
matter is ill defined by Descartes as identical with extension 
(materiam a Cartesio male definiri per extensionem), but must 
necessarily be explained by an attribute which expresses an 
eternal and infinite nature. But perhaps I will discourse of 
this more clearly with you some day, if life suffices me. For 
hitherto I have not been able to set down anything orderly on 
the matter. The opportunity for fuller explanation never came, 
and the passage as it stands is, like others in the same 
correspondence, somewhat obscure. One would expect the 
meaning to be that matter without motion is as inconceivable 
as matter without extension, so that Descartes assumption 
that matter was there first, as an inert lump, and motion was 
put into it afterwards, is illegitimate and irrational. But if 
Spinoza meant this, I cannot see why he should not have said 
it with his usual distinctness. 

At any rate it is pretty clear that the Cartesian conception 
of material substance as consisting merely in extension the 
confusion of matter with space, as Professor Clerk Maxwell 
has called it * which leaves the fact and the idea of mass in 
explicable, and leads to motion being inconsistently regarded, 
now as an ens rationis like the configuration of a system or 
part of space, now as a kind of thing-in -itself, was not 
accepted by Spinoza in his later days. This alone would not 
show that he did not accept it when he wrote the Ethics/ 

1 Clerk Maxwell was living when these lines were written : I cannot let them 
pass through the press without adding a word of tribute to a man of profound and 
original genius, too early lost to England and to science. 


but it is enough to make us wary in reading those propo 
sitions which involve physical ideas. 

Another physical proposition given by Descartes, and 
included in Newton s first law of motion, appears to have 
furnished the groundwork of the more general proposition 
used by Spinoza as the starting point of human psychology 
and ethics. Descartes says ( Princ. Phil. 2, c. 37) that every 
thing, in so far as it is simple and undivided, remains, as much 
as in it lies, in the same condition, and suffers no change 
unless from external causes. Spinoza, in his manual of 
Cartesian philosophy, repeats the proposition in almost the 
same words. Unaquaeque res, quatenus simplex et indivisa 
est, et in se sola consideratur, quantum in se est, semper in 
eodem statu perseverat. The demonstration he gives is 
framed in such general terms as to show that he regarded the 
proposition as not merely physical ; Descartes having already 
treated it as the most general law of physical action ( Princ. 
Phil/ 2, c. 43). And in the Cogitata Metaphysica, published 
as an appendix to this work, we find the general idea of the 
self-preserving effort of things, conatus quo res in statu suo 
perseverare conantur. This effort, Spinoza says, is in truth 
nothing else than the thing itself ; or, as we should now say, 
the fact of the thing being there. And he gives the first law 
of motion as a simple example. * Motion has the power of 
persisting in its actual condition. Now this power is nothing 
else than the motion itself, that is, the fact that such is the 
nature of motion l ( Cogit. Met. pt. i. c. 6, 9). In the Essay 
on God and Man is a curious chapter (pt. i. c .5) in which Provi 
dence is explained as identical with the self-preserving effort. 
Let us now turn to the sixth and seventh propositions in 
the third book of the Ethics. * Unaquaeque res, quantum 
in se est, in suo esse perseverare conatur : every particular 
thing, so much as in it lies, endeavours to persist in its own 

1 Or perhaps, of the particular motion : but if that had been the meaning 
Spinoza would probably have written istius motus. 


being. * Conatus, quo unaquaeque res in suo esse perseverare 
conatur, nihil est praeter ipsius rei actualem essentiam : the 
endeavour wherewith everything strives to persist in its being 
is nothing else than the fact of the thing being what it is. 
The physical aspect of the proposition may be stated in 
modern language by saying that no change of configuration 
takes place without work being done ; this gets rid of the 
objectionable term conatus, and dispenses with the auxiliary 
proposition which Spinoza required to guard against the 
illusions it might lead to. Both the conception and the 
name of the self-preserving endeavour are older, possibly 
much older, than Descartes ; l but the connexion between 
Spinoza s proposition and Descartes so-called first law of 
nature appears to be sufficiently made out by comparison of 
the passages above given. 2 

Here again we are led to remark the importance of histor 
ical criticism. It would be easy, notwithstanding Spinoza s 
own warning, to find in the conatus an inkling of the struggle 
for existence, as we now call it, which is so important in the 
modern scientific account of the world. It has even been 
suggested that Spinoza here anticipates the doctrine of evo 
lution. But the facts are inexorable. There is no more of 
evolution in Spinoza than in Descartes ; there is in one sense 
the general idea of evolution in both, namely, that the whole 
physical universe, animate as well as inanimate, is to be ac- 

1 Giordano Bruno speaks of a desio di conservarsi as common to all 
creatures. In Dante, De Monarchia, I, 15, we find it assumed as a principle that 
1 omne quod est appetit suum esse. A similar maxim was familiar to the Stoics. 
They say that the first impulse of every living thing is directed to self-preservation 
( eTrl rb TTjpetV latmf ), . . . and the proposition is thus stated by Chrysippus in 
his first book on Ends, that the first property of every living creature is the con 
scious maintenance of itself (T^V avrov (rva-raffiv ital T^V TOUTTJS ffweiStja-iv). Diog. 
L. vii. 85 (ap. Ritter and Preller, 420). I have not been able to trace the idea 
much farther back. So far as I can learn (though I speak with diffidence) it is 
not in Aristotle ; but it is discoverable in the later Peripatetics. See the frag 
ment on the Stoics in Grote s Aristotle. 

2 It is briefly noticed by Trendelenburg, Historische Beitrdge zur Philosophic, 
ii. 82. 


counted for by physical causes. What the doctrine of evolu 
tion has done is to put this idea into forms whereby it becomes 
capable of definite scientific treatment, and leads to definite 
results. The point is not to see that there is in nature a con 
stant endeavour, or even competition, of individuals and kinds 
to preserve their existence, but to see that the competition is 
itself an orderly process, and that existing forms are worked 
out by it in ways which may be investigated and reduced to 
law. This belongs to natural, not to speculative philosophy ; 
the most the speculative philosopher can do is to know his 
own business and leave the road clear for natural history. 
And this is the credit I would claim for Spinoza, not the gift 
of prophecy but the gift of discernment. But we shall return 
to this hereafter. 

Thus much of Descartes physical doctrines in their rela 
tion to Spinoza. As to his philosophy in general, there is no 
doubt that Spinoza was profoundly influenced by his doctrine 
of method and by his manner of approaching metaphysical 
and psychological questions. Indeed it could not have been 
otherwise. At the time when Spinoza s mind was opening to 
philosophy, and his powers ripening for independent work, 
Descartes was still in the first flush of his renown. Every 
student who meant to think for himself would turn eagerly to 
Descartes as the liberator who had set reason on a new footing. 
Spinoza necessarily dwelt in a Cartesian atmosphere and 
drew his life from it. But, however much Spinoza must have 
admired the height and range of Descartes genius, and been 
fascinated by the brilliance of his invention, he found the 
actual performance wanting. Reasons have been given, in 
the foregoing notice of the Essay on God and Man, for believ 
ing that Spinoza was never a Cartesian in metaphysics ; it is 
certain that in psychology he came, though more gradually, 
to a marked divergence from Cartesian opinions ; and we have 
just seen that even in physics, where until the advent of New 
ton Descartes seemed to reign without a rival, Spinoza did 


not give him unreserved allegiance. When he wrote his early 
essay, Spinoza had already made up his mind to reject the 
metaphysical dualism of Descartes ; the conception of spirit 
and matter as two distinct substances is entirely put aside. 
On the other hand he still so far adhered to Cartesian psy 
chology as to hold that interaction took place between the 
mind and the body by means of the animal spirits, the 
direction of whose motion, though not the motion itself, could 
be changed by a purely mental act. This was the philoso 
phical use of the fallacious distinction made by Descartes 
between motion and its direction or * determination towards 
this or that part. It enabled him to assign, as he thought, a 
point of contact for the material and the immaterial worlds, 
and not only to leave room for the operation of free will but 
to give a scientific explanation of it. The will could impress 
as much change as might be required on the direction of the 
animal spirits without violating the axiom of the conservation 
of motion. 1 Spinoza, as his own work advanced, perceived the 
weakness of the Cartesian theory, and not only ceased to fol 
low it but explicitly controverted it in the * Ethics. 

Spinoza s doctrine of the unity of Substance was held by 
him, I believe, without interruption from the first days of his 
philosophic activity. He was only strengthened in it by ex 
amination of the Cartesian dualism ; and, so far as we think 
of his opinion on this point in relation to Descartes, we must 
think of it as a critical reaction rather than a development. 
It is true that philosophy could not in any case have rested 
content with the form of dualism propounded by Descartes ; 
the school of Descartes himself did not so rest. He had drawn 
a sharp line of separation between the subjective and objec 
tive aspects of the world, the mental and the material series 
of phenomena, without making any distinct attempt to show 
how they came into relation and correspondence with one 

1 Attempts have been made quite lately to revive this invention in a form 
adapted to modern physical knowledge . 


another. The gap was filled up by the ingenuity of his 
immediate followers with the doctrine of Occasional Causes ; 
which however is really equivalent to giving up the problem 
as hopeless, and taking refuge in a perpetual miracle. Yet 
no other way is possible so long as the fundamental dis 
tinction of substances is retained. Spinoza saw that the ap 
parent explanation was no explanation at all, and took up 
the question again from the beginning. If it can be said of 
him that he only continued the work of Descartes, it can with 
equal justice be said of Kant that he only continued the work 
of Hume. Both found new difficulties probed and laid bare, 
new lines of search indicated by their great precursors ; but 
the problems thus started had in the one case been solved 
imperfectly or erroneously, in the other they were conspicu 
ously and of set purpose left unsolved. Kant and Spinoza, 
men of widely different genius and considering the questions 
of philosophy under widely different forms, both produced 
results which have struck deep root and brought forth a 
manifold harvest in the subsequent course of philosophic 

Every new step in philosophy is a continuation of the 
last, in so far as its character and direction are determined by 
that which has been found wanting in the account of things 
obtained in the last preceding stage. But it can properly be 
called a continuation only when it pushes on in the same 
direction, not when it comes back from it as leading nowhere 
and strikes out a distinct one. This last was the case with 
Spinoza as regards Descartes ; and to speak of his philosophy 
as a branch of the philosophy of Descartes appears to me 
nothing short of a paradox. 




Et j avais toujours un extreme desir d apprendre a distinguer le vrai d avec le 
faux, pourvoir clair en mes actions et marcher avec assurance en cette vie. DES 
CARTES, Discours de la Methode. 

THE best general introduction to the philosophy of Spinoza 
is perhaps that which he has himself given us in his unfinished 
work, On the Amendment of the Understanding/ It was 
begun some considerable time before the * Ethics, probably 
on the suggestion of Descartes Discourse on Method/ but 
on a much larger scale ; it seems to aim at nothing less than 
a complete analytical account of the objects, nature, and 
instruments of philosophic inquiry. Thus it was to prepare 
the way for a constructive exposition which is now represented, 
so far as Spinoza was able to carry it out, by the Ethics. 
At the time of writing this treatise his designs were probably 
more extensive ; and changes, though not fundamental ones, 
had come over his opinions in some points before the Ethics 
assumed their present form. But on the whole the De In- 
tellectus Emendatione stands so much nearer to the Ethics 
than to the 4 Essay on God and Man that it may be fairly 
regarded as the analytical preface to Spinoza s latest work, 
bearing to it some such relation as Descartes Discourse to 
his Principles of Philosophy, or Kant s Prolegomena to the 
Kritik. Spinoza himself, if we may trust the statement of his 
editors, had not dropped the work as out of harmony with 
his later views, but always intended to take it up and finish 
it. Several of the foot-notes attached to it in its present 



shape look as if they had been made by Spinoza on a re- 
perusal some time after the text was written, and were meant 
as memoranda for his own use in the subsequent revision and 
completion which was never executed. 

The treatise begins by considering the futility of the 
common objects of human desire, which are reduced to the 
heads of wealth, power, and pleasures of sense. All these are 
vain and precarious in themselves, and distract the mind 
from the pursuit of the true good. But is not that pursuit 
also precarious ? and if for its sake we renounce that which 
men commonly seek after, may we not lose the substance of 
life for a shadow ? 

The answer gives in a few sentences the whole aim- of 
Spinoza s philosophy. After I had somewhat thought over 
the matter, I found, in the first place, that by abandon 
ing these objects and undertaking a new course of life I 
should abandon a good uncertain in its own nature, as we 
may plainly gather from what I have said, for one uncer 
tain, not in its own nature (for it was a constant good I was 
in search of) but only as to the attainment of it. Further, 
I came by persevering reflexion to see that by so doing, if 
only I could thoroughly weigh the question, I should abandon 
certain evils for a certain good. For I perceived that I was 
encompassed by the utmost danger, and drove myself to seek 
a remedy with all my power, uncertain as it might be ; as 
one sick of a mortal disease, when he foresees certain death 
unless a remedy be applied, is driven to seek that remedy 
with all his power, uncertain though it be, and his whole hope 
is set thereon. Now all those things which the multitude 
pursue not only provide no remedy for the maintenance of 
our being, but actually hinder it, and are oftentimes the occa 
sion of ruin to such as possess them, always to such as are 
possessed by them. . . . Happiness or unhappiness depends 
on the nature of the object whereon we fix our affection. 
Strife, envy, hatred, and fear are the constant penalty of 



loving perishable things. But love towards a thing eternal 
and infinite feeds the mind with pure joy, and is wholly free 
from sorrow ; this is to be greatly desired and strenuously 
sought for. 

Spinoza, like Descartes, tells the story of his own search 
for truth, taking us along with him in the path which he 
struck out, and retracing with us the steps by which at last 
he found himself in the right way. But the difference of their 
ambitions is remarkable. Descartes is in search, not of 
blessedness, not of the supreme good, but of certainty for the 
conduct of man s action. ( I ever had an exceeding desire to 
learn how to distinguish truth from falsehood, that I might 
see the way clearly in my actions and walk with confidence 
in this life. There was no ardent disquietude in his pursuit 
of truth. He found literature instructive and agreeable ; 
mathematics admirable and useful ; theology a guide to 
heaven (whither he meant to go no less than any other man), 
but too lofty for terrestrial uses ; philosophy an art of support 
ing many diverse opinions with equally plausible reasons ; 
and special branches of learning appeared to him in the 
same case with philosophy, save that they were practical roads 
to wealth and honourable employments. From the pursuit 
of these he could stand apart ; he knew enough of vulgar 
imposture and delusion to be proof against them ; and having 
found the school of books a failure, he went forth into the 
school of men. It was only after some years that in the 
leisure of a long winter he turned back upon himself to find 
some better foundations of knowledge and belief. Meanwhile 
active life was well enough ; every man finds at least some 
truth in attending to his own business, for therein error 
brings its own speedy punishment. As for the common 
objects of men s desires and undertakings, their vanity is 
passed over with the briefest mention. What may be the real 
object of life is not discussed, not even glanced at. Know 
ledge is enough for our present search, Descartes seems to 


say. Let us know where we are, and then there will be time 
enough for the rest. 

It is otherwise with Spinoza. Following a more ancient 
course of thought than that struck out by Descartes, he is 
impelled by the futility of earthly desires to set forth on the 
quest of man s true and perfect good. It is not enough for 
him to satisfy the practical need of walking with confidence 
in this life ; he would fain understand the consummation of 
the journey, and the purpose to which all particular know 
ledge and actions are subordinate. The life of courts and 
camps, the field of varied activity and observation where 
Descartes could leave his questionings aside for a season, was 
not open to him. He sec himself, without delay or remission, 
to attack the problem of life, not in and through the world, 
but apart from it. Descartes assumes tacitly that human life 
is good to a reasonable man ; Spinoza assumes that there is 
some human good so sure and so permanent that by find 
ing it the reasonable man can make life good for himself, 
and help others to find it good also. The alternative of pes 
simism does not occur to them in any form. Descartes 
certainly had no reason to complain of the world ; Spinoza, 
so far as outward circumstances went, had as little reason to 
praise it. But for each of them it was equally impossible to 
devise that sort of stimulant for jaded philosophical appetites. 
They lived in too fresh and stirring an air. 

Spinoza s early mention of love towards a thing eternal 
and infinite reminds us in a manner of the Essay on God 
and Man. But the following paragraphs no less foreshadow 
the Ethics. He does not rush off to take the Chief Good by 
storm, but prepares to make sure of it by artificially conducted 
approaches. But for the glimpse he first gave us we should 
not know what he had in sight. In considering what is the 
true or the chief good, it is to be observed, he says, that good 
and evil are only relative terms. < Nothing regarded in its 
own nature is to be called either perfect or imperfect ; 


especially when we are satisfied that everything which 
happens does so according to an eternal order and fixed laws 
of nature. But man can form the conception of a human 
character more constant than his own, and sees that it is pos 
sible for his existing character to be improved by approach to 
this ideal. He casts about therefore for means which may 
help him towards this perfection ; everything that may so 
help him is a true good. And the chief good is to bring it 
to pass that he, together with other persons, if so it may be, 
may be endowed with such a character. What that character 
is we shall show in its proper place, namely, that it consists in 
knowledge of the union which the mind has with the whole 
of nature. This then is the end for which I make, to acquire 
such a character, and to labour that many acquire it with me ; 
that is, it belongs to my happiness to endeavour myself that 
many others may understand the same that I do, that their 
understandings and desires may wholly agree with mine. 
Here is announced the essentially social nature of all human 
morality and improvement, which we afterwards find deve 
loped in the Ethics. To be wise alone is only half the 
battle, and the lesser half; the triumph of the seeker for 
wisdom is to find for his fellow-men as well as for himself. 
An instructed and enlightened society must be formed if its 
members are to attain wisdom. For this end moral philosophy 
and the science of education must be cultivated (and how far, 
two centuries after Spinoza, we still are from a science of 
education) ; and health being an important condition of our 
undertaking, medicine in every branch is to be perfected ; l 
nor are the mechanical arts to be omitted which multiply the 
convenience of life. But before all is to be devised a method 
of curing the understanding, and purifying it so far as we are 

1 Cf. Descartes, Disc, de la Methode, part vi. whose language is stronger. . . . 
S il est possible de trouver quelque moyen qui rende communement les hommes 
plus sages et plus habiles qu ils n ont ete jusqu ici, je crois que c est dans la 
medecine qu on doit le chercher. 


able at this stage, that it may succeed in understanding things 
as well as possible and without error. Thus the scope of all 
knowledge is the same, the perfection of man s nature ; and 
by its tendency to promote that end its usefulness is to be 

Some provisional rules are laid down for the conduct of life 
during the period of inevitable ignorance, but they are of no 
great moment. One of them looks as if Spinoza thought it 
possible at one time that a guarded and judicious introduc 
tion of his opinions would save them from being unpopular. 
Then we come to the degrees of perception, or as we should 
now say, knowledge. 

Four kinds are enumerated. We may learn things (i)by 
hearsay or on authority (ex auditu) ; (2) by the mere sugges 
tion of experience (ab experientia vaga ! ) ; (3) by reasoning 
(essentia rei ex alia re concluditur) ; and (4) by immediate and 
complete perception (res percipitur per solam suam essentiam). 
Thus a man s birthday, the names and condition of his 
ancestors, and the like, are known to him by hearsay ; such 
matters as that oil increases fire, and water puts it out, and most 
things that make up the common knowledge of life, he knows 
by unreasoned experience ; while by reasoning from the 
known properties of light and optical instruments we correct 
the illusions of our sight as to the size of heavenly bodies, or 
from our peculiar experience of our own bodies, we infer that 
there is a peculiar relation of some kind between the mind 
and the body. We know immediately, or by the nature of 
the thing alone, a few of the simplest and most general truths. 
A single example, however, will serve to illustrate all the 
kinds of knowledge ; and this example alone is retained in 
the Ethics, where the classification is repeated, but tradition 
and loose experience are taken together as sources of 

1 This is a Baconian phrase. Nov. Org. Aph. 100. Sigwart, Spinoza s 
Neuentdeckter Tractat, &c. p. 157. Prof. Sigwart s other evidences of Baconian 
influence in Spinoza s treatise are not so clear ; the influence, at all events, was a 
transitory one. 



knowledge of the first kind ; reasoning forming the second 
kind, and intuition the third and highest. The example 
chosen is that of a simple arithmetical proportion. 

Let three numbers be given in order to find a fourth, which 
shall be to the third as the second to the first. Tradesmen have 
no hesitation in multiplying the second by the third and dividing the 
product by the first ; either because they have not forgotten the rule 
they once heard from a master without any proof [knowledge 
ex auditu~\, or because they have often made trial of it with simple 
numbers \_experientia vaga\ or by virtue of the proof in the nineteenth 
proposition of the seventh book of Euclid, that is, by the general 
property of proportionals [ratio or secundi generis cognitio]. But with 
very simple numbers there is no need of this. For example, if the 
given numbers be i, 2, 3, no one fails to see that the fourth pro 
portional is 6 ; and this much more clearly, because we at once 
infer the fourth number from the ratio which we see by a single 
intuitive act that the first has to the second/ l 

We have to choose between these modes of acquiring in 
formation as the means of arriving at exact knowledge, and 
thereby at the greatest possible perfection of man s nature. 
Tradition and loose experience are obviously uncertain and 
untrustworthy. It was Spinoza s intention, as we learn by his 
marginal note, to discuss in this place the whole subject of 
experimental knowledge and research. Reasoning will lead 
us to certainty, if rightly carried out ; yet by itself it will not 
be a means of attaining our perfection. The fourth mode of 
perception alone (the third kind of knowledge in the nomen 
clature of the Ethics ) is the only one which is both adequate, 
as giving us the whole nature of the thing perceived, and free 
from risk. Our task is therefore to find the best and shortest 
way for bringing things at present unknown to us within its 
grasp. 2 

* Now that we have learnt what knowledge is needful for us, we 
have to deliver a way and method, whereby the things to be known 
shall be known with that kind of knowledge. To which end it is 

1 Eth. 2, 40, schol. 2. * De Int. Emend, c. 5. 


first to be considered, that there shall not be here an infinite search : 
that is, in order that the best method of discovering the truth may 
be found, we do not need another method to discover that, and to 
discover the second method we do not want yet a third, and so on 
without end. For in this manner we should never arrive at know 
ledge of the truth, nor at any knowledge at all. The matter stands 
indeed in the same way as that of material instruments, where one 
might argue in like manner. For to work iron one must have a 
hammer, which hammer must be made ; for which yet another 
hammer and other tools are needful, and to produce these again we 
shall need other tools, and so on without end : l and in this fashion 
one might vainly endeavour to prove that men have no power of 
working iron. 

Man has in fact succeeded in making tools and machines 
by many progressive steps. At first he used his hands to 
obtain, by rough and toilsome processes, a few of the simplest 
instruments. By the help of these he made other and better 
ones with less labour, and from stage to stage arrived at his 
command of mechanical arts. So too the human mind, using 
its native strength to procure instruments for its work, pro 
ceeds from one undertaking to another till it attains consum 
mate wisdom. What then are the instruments with which the 
mind is equipped by nature, and which suffice it for the con 
struction of other and more finished ones ? They are true 
ideas, and the sole and sufficient proof of their truth is fur 
nished by themselves. Accordingly the doctrine of method 
is not concerned to assign a test of truth to be applied to our 
ideas after we have got them ; the problem is to find the due 
order in which; truth, the representations of the nature of 
things/ > or true ideas (.11 which terms are synonymous) are to 

1 Cf. the Rabbinical list of * things created between the suns, in which some 
say, tongs also, made with tongs. C. Taylor, Sayings of the Jewish Fathers, 
v. 9. 

2 Essentiae obiectivae rerum. In Spinoza s usage obiectivus means repre 
sented in, or taken as the object of thought, and is often equivalent to the modern 
subjective. The correlative term, where the thing is considered in itself, or as we 
should now say objectively, isformalis ; so that true knowledge in the mind is said 
refer re obiective formalitalem naturae. 


be sought for. This naturally appears to a modern reader at 
first sight as the most absolute dogmatism. The author seems 
to be claiming an arbitrary right to accept anything he pleases 
as self-evident. But this is not really the case. Spinoza s 
drift in this passage, when freed from the technical form of his 
argument, is that by no logical device whatever can we escape 
the necessity of starting from something or other as self-evident, 
and throwing on its self-evidence the whole weight of all the 
subsequent knowledge we may build on our leading assump 

Let us take Spinoza s own explanation in the more concise 
and finished form which it assumes in the * Ethics. In the 
second part (Prop. 43) he asserts that whoever has a true 
idea, knows at the same time that he has a true idea, and 
cannot doubt the truth of the thing perceived. 

After the regular demonstration, which is very artificial, 
these remarks are added by way of Scholium : 

It is to be noted that the foregoing proposition is pretty manifest 
of itself. For no man who has a true idea is unaware that a true idea 
involves the utmost degree of certitude. For to have a true idea 
signifies nothing else than to know the thing perfectly or as well as 
possible ; nor can any one possibly doubt of this unless he thinks an 
idea to be a lifeless thing like a picture on a panel, and not a mode 
of thought, to wit the very act of understanding. Who can know, I 
ask, that he understands anything, unless he do first understand the 
thing? in other words, who can know that he is sure of anything 
unless he is first indeed sure of that thing ? Again, what can be 
found more clear and certain than a true idea, which may be the 
test of truth ? Even as light makes manifest both itself and dark 
ness, so is truth the measure of itself and of falsehood. 

Spinoza does not say, be it observed, that every apparent 
certainty is true knowledge, but that there is no true know 
ledge without certainty, and the certainty is given in the 
knowledge itself. In other words, there is ultimately no 
external test of truth ; we must be content in the last resort 
with the clear and persistent witness of consciousness. This 



doctrine is not necessarily transcendental or dogmatic. It is 
compatible with a purely empirical account of the origin of 
all our knowledge, and indeed is adopted in that connexion 
by one of the leading philosophical authors of our own time 
and country. Mr. Herbert Spencer s view of the final test of 
truth, though he puts it in the negative form as the inconceiv- 
ableness of the contrary, is substantially not distinguishable 
from Spinoza s. Rightly understood, the doctrine is not an 
assumption of infallibility, but a warning against any such as 
sumption. When a man is once in possession of the truth, he 
cannot doubt it ; but he may well be deceived into supposing 
himself in possession of it when he is not. To take an illus 
tration used elsewhere by Spinoza himself, a man dreaming 
often fancies himself sure that he is awake ; but a man really 
awake can never think he is dreaming. The things I see and 
feel, my phenomena, are ultimate certainties to me so far as 
they go. The difficulty is to ascertain how far they really do 
go, to separate the phenomena from my interpretation of them, 
which experience has shown to be in many ways liable to 
error. Again, when I have clearly grasped the relations 
between the parts of a geometrical diagram, I can entertain 
no doubt concerning them. Yet before I had sufficiently con 
sidered them I might be uncertain, or even entertain a wrong 
conception of the geometrical relations and imagine it to be 
certainly right. No one knew better than Spinoza how easy 
it is to hold confused and erroneous beliefs with absolute con 
fidence. Some of the current notions in philosophy and psy 
chology which he makes the objects of his most unsparing 
attack are precisely those which have been most commonly 
maintained on the ground that they are principles given by 
consciousness as clear, ultimate, and self-evident. 

At the same time there is no reason to doubt that Spinoza 
did underrate (as almost all constructive philosophers have 
underrated) the difficulty of ascertaining what the ultimate 
data of sense and thought really are ; he nowhere undertakes 


the analysis of these data, nor does he separate it from the 
business of ascertaining concrete truth in particular cases. 
Descartes own testimony is express that he thought the 
whole body of possible knowledge to lie, generally if not in 
detail, within a moderate compass, and to be deducible from 
principles which might be finally settled in a single generation, 
when once the problem of method was solved. Spinoza is not 
so explicit, but it seems probable that his expectations were 
of the same kind. For men in this sanguine frame of mind 
it was natural also to underrate the difficulty of procuring ac 
ceptance among mankind for the conceptions which to them 
appeared to shine with the light of evident and self-justifying 
truth. This kind of excessive hope, however, is capable of 
being dashed by experience in all but incorrigible visionaries ; 
and while it appears, though not extravagantly, in the fragment 
De Intellectus Emendatione, no sign of it is left in the 
1 Ethics. 

So far I have put the matter in my own way, to avoid the 

difficulties of Spinoza s vocabulary : but his use of the term 

idea calls for some consideration in this place, the point being 

too important for the understanding of Spinoza s psychology 

to be omitted or evaded. In the passage now before us l idea 

is a conscious state of the knowing mind, in which the object 

known is represented. This again may become the subject 

i of another representation, and so on. The man Peter is an 

existing thing (quid reale). The true idea of Peter is the 

| nature of Peter represented in thought (essentia Petri obiec~ 

\ tiva), and is itself an existing object wholly distinct from 


This idea of Peter may then be the object of another idea 

which will contain by representation (pbiective) all that the 
| idea of Peter contains actually (formaliter) ; and again the idea 

thus formed of the idea of Peter has its own nature which 
; may likewise be the object of another idea, and so on. Thus 

De Int. Em. c. 6, 33. 

K 2 


now the idea of Peter is not a previous condition of know 
ing Peter himself; in other words, knowing that I know is not 
a condition of knowledge, but on the contrary the reflective 
knowledge is a consequence of the direct. And the certainty 
of knowledge is nothing else than the nature of the thing itself 
represented in thought ; whence we see again that there is no 
ultimate mark of truth outside the truth itself. 

So far, then, and as far as the treatise on the Amendment 
of the Understanding goes, Spinoza s idea seems equivalent 
to what we now call a concept. But we shall find else 
where that it has a wider significance. It always denotes a 
mode of thought considered as corresponding to an object, but 
the nature of the correspondence may be very different from 
that which is here dealt with. The most important case is 
that of the human mind, which is spoken of as the idea of the 
body associated with it. Now a man can easily think of his 
own body, but he is not always doing so, and when he does 
his thought will not be accurate unless he has learnt some 
thing of physiology. And even if every human being were 
an accomplished physiologist, the constant relation of the 
mind as a whole to the body as a whole would still be something 
different from the relation of the knowing to the known. The 
organic sensations which furnish the groundwork for a large 
part of our conscious life are not knowledge or concepts. But 
Spinoza makes use of the one term idea to denote the two kinds 
of relation, and we have to find out by the context which he 
means. 1 If I think of Peter, the state of my consciousness is an 
idea of Peter according to Spinoza s first usage of the term. But 
according to his other usage, it is the idea, not of Peter, but of 
the corresponding state of my own brain and nerves, or such 
parts of them as are, in modern language, the organs of that 

1 The corresponding German term Vorstellung is capable of the same latitude. 
Hence we find the ambiguity -of Spinoza s own language to some extent reproduced 
even by the best of his German expounders. Spinoza himself once calls attention 
to the distinction : Eth. 2, 17, schol. 


particular phase of conscious thought. In the one sense the 
object of the idea is Peter, in the other it is the bodily organism 
correlated to the thinking mind. And it is important to observe 
that in this other sense idea has a far wider application than in 
the first and more familiar sense. The material correlate which 
is called the object of the idea may be a living organism, but 
also it may not. The idea may coincide with a concept in a 
conscious mind, or with a conscious mind forming concepts, 
but also it may not. Considering, for example, the whole 
material universe as the object, we have a corresponding idea 
which, whatever it may be, is not part of any human con 
sciousness. In this sense, accordingly, there can be only one 
idea of any given object ; in the former sense, in which idea 
was equivalent to concept, we might have a distinct and in 
dividual idea of the object in every finite mind capable of 
thinking about it. 

Taking idea in the narrower sense of concept, it is obvious, 
as Spinoza points out, that the process denoted by it may be 
repeated on the idea itself ; and this either in the conceiving 
mind itself or in another. When this takes place in the same 
mind, we have a thought thinking upon itself, or reflective j 
knowledge. The mind s operation thus taking account of 
itself is in Spinoza s language idea ideae. Now Spinoza was 
firmly minded to hold fast the unity and continuity of mental 
processes. He would have nothing to do with separate facul 
ties, much less with an ascending scale of them. When the 
mind knows itself, the knowing and the known are one and 
the same. In order to enforce this he carries over the term 
-idea ideae, naturally framed, as we have seen, on his first sense 
of the word idea, to a new employment in the second sense. 
Reflective knowledge is idea mentis or idea ideae (where idea 
is the concept). The mind itself, as united with the body, is idea 
corporis (where idea = correlate in the world of thought). 
Spinoza tacitly substitutes correlate for concept in the inter 
pretation of idea ideae, and concludes that the idea mentis is 


united with the mind as the mind is with the body. But the 
mind and the idea of the mind are both modes of thought. 
If therefore they correspond exactly they must be one and the 
same thing ; not the same thing under different aspects, as the 
mind and body, but the same thing under the same aspect, and 
identical to all intents. 1 The blending, logically not to be 
justified, of the two meanings of idea, seems to give us the 
key to some of the difficulties we must hereafter face in the 

Spinoza goes on to say that the object of method is 
neither to find a special test of truth (which has been shown 
to be needless) nor the actual acquisition of knowledge, but 
the guidance of the search for knowledge. Method is nothing 
else than reflective knowledge or the idea of an idea?** Now 
the reflective knowledge which has for its object the idea of 
the most perfect being is more excellent than any other. 
This idea, then, is the ultimate object of the mind s pursuit. 
Here, again, the two senses of idea are not separated. It is 
by no means evident that the mind s knowledge of its own 
operations is more or less perfect as knowledge by reason of 
those operations being concerned with a more or less perfect 
subject-matter. To make the assumption intelligible we have 
to suppose a correlation as well as a relation between the mind 
which knows in the first instance and the object which is 
known. What is meant by the idea of the most perfect being 
is not further explained in this place ; except that true ideas 
in the mind should be produced from * that which represents 
the origin and source of all nature, as the reality of things is 
derived from that origin itself. Once more the two distinct 
conceptions of representation and correlation are thrown 
together under the term idea. 

The road by which the human mind is to attain its goal 

1 Fth. 2, 22. 

2 De Int. Em. c. 7, ad fin. Cf. Descartes, Disc, de la Methode, part ii. ; but 
the resemblance is not close. 


is practically to be found in the knowledge of its own powers 
and of the order of nature. Were the true method once found 
and followed, advance would be certain. But it is in truth 
seldom found, by reason of men s prejudices, the toil and 
clearness of thought needed for the work, and other causes. 
Even if the method, being found, were exhibited in action 
without any previous warning, it would probably fail to carry 
conviction : for it might well happen to lead to unexpected 
results, which men would be prone to reject without examina 
tion. It is therefore not reasonable to call for an immediate 
production of results to test the value of the method by. As 
for absolute sceptics, if any such there be, they are by their 
own showing beyond the pale of reasonable discourse. A man 
who will admit nothing cannot be certain even of his own 
doubt, although he cannot live without acting on a great 
number of assumptions as to the reality of himself and the 


The inquiry, so far as it has gone, is now summed up. 
We have ascertained, firstly what is the ultimate object of 
our search ; secondly, through what kind of knowledge we 
may best attain perfection ; thirdly, what course we must 
follow to think rightly from the beginning, or how we may 
enlarge our stock of true ideas. To provide for this demand 
is the special task of method, and its problems are the 
following : 

1. To distinguish a true idea from all other conceptions, 
and restrain the mind from others : 

2. To deliver rules whereby things unknown may be 
brought into knowledge according to this distinction : 

3. To establish an order of inquiry whereby we may be 
saved useless labour : 

4. And to arrive at the idea of the most perfect being/ 
as the surest way to the perfection of our method. 

This may not look very promising at first sight to a 
student of modern science : especially the fourth canon of 


method has an air of hopelessly unpractical mysticism. But 
reflexion will alter this view. The first three rules are open, 
in our day at least, only to the objection that they savour of 
commonplace. Clearness of conception and avoidance of 
confused thought, a procedure step by step from the known 
to the unknown, and an arrangement of the whole work such 
that every step has its value, and no labour is spent in vain, 
are beyond question among the most essential condition^ for 
the successful conduct of all scientific inquiry. Every one 
seriously concerned with the investigation of truth in philoso 
phy, law, natural science, or the practical affairs of life, does 
in fact endeavour to fulfil those conditions in his own busi 
ness, and the success of the body of his enterprise will be in 
proportion to his success in fulfilling them. 

The fourth rule is in appearance a harder saying. But 
we have already seen that for Spinoza, attached by race and 
tradition to the Hebrew sentiment of a one and only supreme 
power, and by an intellectual passion to the pursuit of exact 
science, the perfection of God, conceived as the most perfect 
being, constant in all his works/ meant above all things unity 
and uniformity. Thus the idea of the most perfect being 
includes, if it is not equivalent to, the belief that the whole 
nature of things is one and uniform. Now this is the very 
first principle of all science. The uniformity of the course of 
nature is that to which all lesser uniformities converge, and by 
which they are all supported. If we do not call it a law of 
nature, it is because there could be no laws of nature and no 
science without it. And Spinoza will have no exceptions 
from it. In knowing the most perfect being, the mind also 
knows itself as part of the universal order and at one with it: 
therein finding, as we have to learn elsewhere, the secret of 
man s happiness and true freedom. What more Spinoza may 
have meant is doubtful : that he meant this much is certain. 
Such is not the mind of a dreamer of dogmatic dreams. 

Spinoza proceeds to work out the several departments of 


method ; an operation interesting to us not because it is more 
likely to lead any one to the actual discovery of truth than 
other expositions of the same kind, but because it throws 
light on Spinoza s theory of knowledge and helps to make us 
familiar with the conceptions afterwards more closely handled 
in the Ethics. The first part of method was to distinguish 
true ideas from all others : the nature of fiction, error, and 
doubt, has therefore to be considered. Fiction or fancy in its 
most common shape deals with things considered as possible 
but undetermined. We make a supposition which we know 
or assume to be consistent in itself, but without knowing the 
facts on which its actual truth depends. An omniscient mind 
would be incapable of making suppositions of this kind ; l nor 
can we make them as to matters of which we are certain. In 
another sense, however, we can imagine the contrary of what 
is well known to us ; for instance, that the sun goes round 
the earth. This is the mental representation of an erroneous 
idea which we may have ourselves formerly entertained, or 
which might be entertained by others. Again, we make supposi 
tions contrary to our immediate perceptions ; as that a candle 
burning before us is not burning. This is nothing but an 
effort of memory or abstraction ; the recollection of unlighted 
candles we have seen, or the image of the candle before us 
apart from its flame. Spinoza gives in a note the important 
remark that the mind can really create nothing by way of 
fiction, but can only recall and combine the elements already 
given in experience. We remember spoken words and a 
tree ; and if attention is directed confusedly and without 
-distinction to these mental representations, we can form the 
notion of a tree speaking. As to the fictions which involve 
the nature of things apart from or in addition to particular 

1 Reading with Sigwart eum or id for nos in 54, ad init. The correction 
had already been made by the contemporary Dutch translator : Hier uit volgt dat, 
zo er enig God, of iets alweetend is, hy gantschelijk niets kan verdichten. 
Nagdate Schriften> p. 423. 


facts, they depend simply on ignorance. The less we know 
of nature, the more absurdities can we accept from the work 
shop of unregulated fancy ; such as talking trees, magic and 
apparitions, transformations of men into stones, and the like. 
On the whole, then, the mere fictions of the imagination are 
always confused, and will never impose on us if we trace out 
their consequences, which if they are absurd will show the 
absurdity of the assumption, or analyse them into elements 
so simple as to exclude that confused representation of 
several things at once which is the essence of baseless fancies. 
Positive error (idea falsa) ! is of the same nature as fiction, 
differing from it only in the addition of intellectual assent. 
The remedy is the same as in the last case, namely, the reduc 
tion of our ideas to a degree of simplicity that shall ensure 
their being clear and distinct. A perfectly simple idea cannot 
be false, provided we understand truth and falsehood in the 
sense which Spinoza now proceeds to explain. The truth or 
falsehood of an idea does not, in his view, depend so much on 
external things as upon the constitution and operation of the 
mind itself. An architect conceives in his mind a building of 
a new design, which may peradventure never be executed. 
If the plan is not repugnant to the laws of construction, 2 he 
has an idea vera. If a man makes a reckless assertion without 
means of knowledge, his judgment is with regard to him not 
true, though it may turn out to be in accordance with fact. 
The affirmation that Peter exists is true only with regard to 
him who has assured knowledge of Peter s existence. Again, 
even a fiction may be idea vera when it is used consistently 
and limited to the purpose for which it was made. Thus we 
may imagine a sphere to be generated by the revolution of a 
semicircle ; and this conception, though we know that it does 
not correspond to any physical fact, is perfectly legitimate and 
true for the purpose of defining our conception of a sphere. 
If we took it as the statement of a physical event it would 

Ca P- 9- 2 Si quis faber ordine concepit, &c. 69. 


become false. So the mathematical ideas of imaginary quan 
tities and loci, the circular points at infinity, and the like, are 
true ideas in Spinoza s meaning, for they are consistently 
worked out and lead to intelligible results. Probably Spinoza 
would have said the same of the non-Euclidean systems of 
geometry which have been the subject of modern speculations. 
Truth, in short, is not the correspondence of the concept with 
an external object, but the result of .the normal operation of 
the mind on elements given by clear and distinct concep 
tion. Error (falsitas) consists only in this, that somewhat 
is affirmed of a thing which is not contained in the concept 
we have formed of it ; as motion or rest [i.e. as physical 
facts] of a semicircle. When we make such an affirmation, 
it shows a defect in our conception, or that our thought or 
idea is as it were maimed and cut short. } 

Spinoza s definition of truth may seem to verge on para 
dox. But his estimate of the value of truth coincides with 
that which we derive both from common sense and from 
science. Not the bare possession of a fact, but the possession 
of it in connexion with other facts which enable us to make 
the right use of it, is the object we seek in every particular 
inquiry. Disjointed and accidental knowledge is for the most 
part little better than none, and may be even worse. On the 
other hand we may and constantly do use fictitious conceptions 
as the most convenient way of arriving at real results ; and 
there is no harm in this if we confine the fiction to its proper 
use. Thus the corpuscular theory of light, though known 
to be false as a physical hypothesis, may still be used as a 
legitimate fiction in geometrical optics : and the language and 
conceptions of the Ptolemaic system are still employed in astro 
nomy for many purposes. Even the formal part of Spinoza s 
exposition is less alien to our ways of thinking than it appears. 

1 Cf, Ep. 42, where Spinoza says even more positively that the chain of 
clear and distinct perceptions is independent of external circumstances. See 
especially 3. 


When he makes truth consist, in the last resort, in the identity 
of ideas clearly seen to be equivalent, falsehood in the juxta 
position of incongruous ones, he is really on the same line 
of thought as more than one recent inquirer. The position 
becomes dogmatic only on the assumption that we have 
ideas antecedent to experience ; but of such ideas Spinoza 
knows nothing. He does not dwell, it is true, on the practical 
necessity of testing our work, in all departments where it can 
be so tested, by fresh appeals to experience. But this belongs 
to the art of conducting research in the particular subject- 
matter, whatever it may be ; and Spinoza does not profess to 
give rules extending so far. At the same time it is hardly 
open to doubt that Spinoza very much underrated the diffi 
culty of making sure of clear and distinct ideas at the out 
set. With all philosophers of all times down to his own, he 
supposed that the ultimate elements of things and of know 
ledge were comparatively few and simple ; and that when the 
fundamental principles were once ascertained, everything could 
be explained by deduction from them with very little need for 
/ external verification. Previous inquirers, he says, have fallen 
into error by not understanding the first principles of the 
universe ; whereby, proceeding without due order, and con 
founding the nature of things with rules which, though true, 
j are abstract in modern language, by applying general rules 
or definitions without first ascertaining whether they were 
really applicable to the particular class of facts * they con 
found themselves and distort the order of nature. He in 
stances the materialism of the Stoics, who identified the soul 
with the subtlest kind of matter by mixing up a physical con 
ception which was clear as far as it went with a confused 
notion of mind. But we/ he continues, * if we proceed with 
as little abstraction as may be, and begin from first principles 
at the earliest possible point, that is, from the source and 
origin of nature, shall be free from all fear of such illusion. 
The reason why the danger of abstractions disappears is that 


(as we are to learn hereafter) the idea of the first principle of 
nature is not and cannot be an abstraction. This is in fact a 
being single and infinite, that is, it is the whole of being, 
beside which no being is found. 1 

This being single and infinite is that which has been 
already proposed as the final object of all knowledge, the 
knowledge of it being man s only durable good. And we 
may fitly observe here the reason why the idea of this being 
is justly denied by Spinoza to be abstract. We may arrive 
at an abstract idea of being by forming more and more general 
notions which, as we proceed from one to another, shall com 
prise a greater number of subordinate kinds and individuals 
agreeing in fewer attributes ; until at length we arrive at a 
bare notion of being in which no distinct attribute is left. 
This is the vanishing-point of logical classification, where 
there is no longer a handle for the dividing mind to lay hold 
of. But this abstraction is quite different from our conception 
of the sum of things as a whole, which is the conception not 
of a class or genus but of existing things, and is no more 
abstract than the conception of any object or assemblage of 
objects which cannot be directly presented to sense. To a 
certain extent this may be illustrated by simpler examples. 
We have the general -name army, and a corresponding general 
or abstract idea. But the name of the British army, and the 
idea called up by it, stand for no abstraction, but for a certain 
real aggregate of men, together with their arms, horses, and 
various munitions of war, all which are definite existing things. 
In our idea of the British army as it exists at a given moment, 
as when the Mutiny Act for next year comes into operation, 
there is no abstraction at all. There is a sort of abstraction 
when we regard the army as a body which retains an histori 
cal and moral continuity notwithstanding the changes of men, 
material, and organization which are constantly taking place 
in it : but this, as may easily be seen, has no analogy in the 
1 Cap. 9, 74-76. 


course of nature as a whole. For changes of this kind are 
from without, or with regard to something outside the subject 
of change : but there is nothing outside the whole of nature. 
Now the idea of the whole of being, as Spinoza calls it, is 
the idea of the whole actual sum of existence and of all its 
consequences : and it differs from the abstract idea of being 
in the same way that our thought of the British army differs 
from our thought of an army in general, but in an even 
greater degree. It is not a vanishing conception which eludes 
the understanding by having no real contents, but it baffles 
the imagination because its contents are too rich and mani 
fold to be grasped. And it has the singular property that no 
abstraction can be formed from it. The universe, as including 
ieverything, is manifestly sui generis, or rather above all genera 
and species : we cannot speak of this or that universe, for 
then it would be a universe no longer. But all this may so 
far seem to be mere trifling with words. For suppose we have 
an idea of the universe or whole sum of being, which, em 
bracing as it does all particular existence, is necessarily single 
and all-containing, what then ? Where is the mighty profit 
which, according to Spinoza, we are to derive from the con 
templation of it ? Nothing is more certain than that no man 
ever made or will make a discovery of any moment in art or 
science by dint of thinking on the nature of things at large. 
But it is no less an assured fact that discoveries are not made 
without belief in the nature of things, by which I mean the 
sure trust that under all diversity of appearances there is a 
certain and sufficient order, that there is no maze which has 
not somewhere a clue. Belief in the nature of things is the 
mainspring of all science and the condition of all sound 
thinking, unless there be some kind of sound thinking which 
diverges from sound reason. Now Spinoza s philosophy is 
the enthronement of reason, and it is this belief that he re 
quires. The truth is that his idea of the sum and source of 
all being, or the most perfect being, in other words, of God, 



as he afterwards explained that name in the Ethics, in 
cludes the idea of uniformity as ruling all events whatever, 
and this uniformity is regarded as inseparable from the unity 
of the only and all-embracing whole. Deus est summe 
constans in suis operibus. The Mosaic conception of 
the one God of Israel wedded to the Lucretian concep 
tion, revived though with bated breath by Descartes, of 
the one and inflexible nature of things ; such is the mood 
Spinoza would have us bring to the questioning of the world, 
such the majesty and gravity of nature in his eyes. Here 
we have no matter of verbal definitions, but a fundamental 
principle ; and whoever would enter into Spinoza s mind 
must first feel himself at home in this the central point of 
Spinoza s philosophy. 

Let us return for the present to the fragment on Method 
which is our text in this chapter. Having spoken of true and 
false ideas, Spinoza goes on to the nature of doubt, which 
can take place, he says, only in the case of ideas which are 
confused or imperfect. We know by past experience that 
error is possible, but have not the means of ascertaining or 
removing the possible sources of it in the particular case. 
Ignorant people are confident because they know nothing of 
their liability to mistake ; thus a rustic stares and disbelieves 
when he is told that the sun is much bigger than a clod of 
earth. So that doubt may be said always to arise from our 
inquiries not being pursued in a due order. Here again there 
is the tacit assumption that it is possible to conform to an 
ideal type of order in every kind of investigation, so as to 
ensure demonstrative certainty for every step; in other 
words, that a general and infallible theory of method can be 
found. 1 What Spinoza says of memory in the next chapter 
is more fully repeated in the Ethics/ and may be here 
passed over : but his summary of the results thus far obtained 
is important. He dwells on the point that error has been 

1 DC Int. Em.> cap. 10. 


shown to be a product not of the understanding but of the 

1 As to a true idea, he proceeds, we have shown that it is simple 
or compounded of simple ideas j that it shows how and why something 
is or has become what it is ; and that the effects of the object as 
represented in the mind correspond to the reality of the object itself. 1 
Which was indeed the meaning of the ancients when they said that 
true knowledge proceeds from the cause to the effects ; save that they 
never to my knowledge conceived, as we do here, the mind as acting 
conformably to fixed laws and like an immaterial automaton. 
Hence we have gained, so far as we might at the outset, the descrip 
tion of our understanding, and such a rule of true ideas as leaves us 
in no fear of confounding true things with false or feigned ; neither 
shall we wonder why we understand sundry things that are in no wise 
subject to the imagination, while others are in the imagination which 
are wholly repugnant to the understanding, and others again agree 
therewith. For we know that the operations by which the works of 
imagination are produced have place according to laws of their own 
wholly diverse from those of the understanding, and that the mind, 
as regards the imagination, is in a merely passive condition. Whence 
it also appears how easily those may fall into great error who have 
not been careful to distinguish between the acts of imagination and 
of understanding. 

This distinction is one of the corner-stones of Spinoza s 
psychology : and the conception of knowledge as an activity 
of the mind which, as we may remember, is not found in the 
early treatise Of God and Man is of hardly less importance 
in his mature work. He now applies his doctrine of the ima 
gination to illustrate the fallacies of common language. The 
passage is remarkable. 

* Since words belong to the imagination (that is to say, we form 
many notions according as the words expressing them are confusedly 
put together in the memory by reason of particular bodily conditions), 

i Quod ipsius effectus obiectivi in anima procedunt ad rationem formalitatis 
ipsius obiecti. One might be tempted to read affectus for effectus. But effectus 
obiectivi is probably equivalent to the ordo et connexio idearum of Eth. 2, 7. As to 
automaton spirituale, which occurs immediately below, cf. what Descartes says 
of the body in the Treatise of the Passions, 6, 16. 


we cannot doubt that words, no less than imagination, may be 
the source of many grievous errors, unless we are very watchful 
against them. Besides, they are framed after the fancy and capacity 
of the common sort, so that they are but signs of things as they are 
in the imagination, not as they are in the understanding. Which 
is evident from this, that on all such things as lie in understanding 
only and not in imagination they have fixed names that are often 
times negative, as are incorporeal, infinite, and the like. Many other 
things which are in truth affirmative they express in negative terms, 
and conversely, 1 because in each case the contrary is far easier to be 
imagined : thus the names occurred in that easier form to the men 
who first framed them, and they used positive terms for negative 
ideas. There is much that we affirm and deny because the nature 
of language allows us so to do, and yet the nature of things doth not ; 
so that, not knowing this last, we might well take falsehood for truth. 

Spinoza proceeds 2 to the second part of the doctrine of 
method, which prescribes as the ends to be sought, first the 
possession of clear and distinct ideas produced by the pure 
operation of the mind, not by casual bodily motions ; next 
the reduction of these to unity. For this purpose we must 
endeavour so to connect and order our ideas that our mind, 
so far as possible, may represent in thought the reality of 
nature both as a whole and in its parts. Finite things must 
be understood through their immediate causes; for the 
knowledge of an effect is in truth nothing else than acquiring 
a more perfect knowledge of the cause. Hence it appears, 
adds Spinoza in a note, that we can understand no part of 
nature without at the same time increasing our knowledge of 
the first cause or God ; in modern language, every true expla 
nation of a particular fact gives us a particular piece of the 
single and universal order of nature, and thereby adds to our 
knowledge of that order. Therefore, the text continues, so 

1 The Latin here repeats instances of terms negative in form, but gives none 
of terms affirmative in form but negative in meaning. There seems to be some 
confusion or omission in the text. In the first sentence of the paragraph here 
translated, it is not clear whether the subject of compommtur is verba or concert** 
I have assumed the former. 

2 Cap. 12. 



long as our business is inquiry concerning actual things, we 
may never form any conclusion from abstract notions ; and 
we shall use exceeding care not to confound that which is 
only in the understanding with that which is in the thing 

To appreciate the significance of this we must bear in 
mind that Spinoza was a thorough-going nominalist. And 
further on he says that our chief aim should be to acquire 
knowledge of particulars. Such an outspoken abjuration of 
all figments and preconceived notions might almost be ex 
pected to introduce without more ceremony an exhortation 
to practical observation. But Spinoza proceeds otherwise: 
he tells us that the best way is to work from the true defini 
tion of the thing investigated, and that the next problem is 
to fix the conditions of such a definition. 

What he says on this topic l is very characteristic. A 
definition, it it is to be called perfect, must explain the very 
nature of the thing, and beware of using instead thereof only 
some of its properties. He gives as an example the defini 
tion of a circle, which he chooses merely for convenience ; a 
circle being, like all geometrical figures, an abstraction, so 
that it really matters not which of the possible definitions we 
take. 2 If we define a circle as a figure such that the radii 
from the centre to the circumference are equal, we get only a 
particular property of the circle, and have not accounted for 
the circle itself. And if we were dealing with a real thing 
this would be serious. The true definition of a created (which 
practically means finite 3 ) thing should satisfy two conditions, 
i. It must include the immediate cause (causa proximo] of 
the thing. 2. It must be such that all the properties of the 

1 Cap. 13. 

Figura non aliud quam determinatio, et determinatio negatio est. Ep. 50, 
4. Modern readers, however, will have no difficulty in admitting that a circle or 
hyperbola is not a physically existing thing. 

8 Not exactly, for res creata here must = modus in the Ethics, and Spinoza 
speaks of infinite modes. (See above, p. 108.) 


thing, so far as it is considered apart from everything else, 
can be deduced from it. In the case of the circle these con 
ditions would be fulfilled by defining it as the figure described 
by the free extremity of a straight line whose other end is 
fixed. As to the definition of an uncreated thing, it must 
show that the thing is not explained by reference to anything 
outside itself, which Spinoza calls the exclusion of a cause ; it 
must make the existence of the thing evident ; the explana 
tion must involve no abstract notions ; and all the properties 
of the thing must be deducible from the definition, which 
however is not so material in this case. 

All this is at first sight perplexing, and if we take the 
terms in their common meaning it is hardly intelligible. We 
have then to consider what Spinoza really meant by a defini 
tion, and what was the causa proximo, which, wherever a cause 
is admissible, the definition must include. He requires o f a 
definition, as it appears to me, a great deal more than logicians 
require ; so much that it may fairly be suggested that what 
he calls a definition would now be called a scientific explana 
tion. It is not merely an equation of names, but an equation 
of ideas corresponding to a constant relation between facts, 
and expressing the reduction of something unknown to terms 
of known elements. If this be so, the immediate cause is 
the known condition or set of conditions in terms of which the 
unknown thing can be expressed. Definition is the same pro- 
cess, considered with regard to the observer s mind, which is 
explanation when we consider it with regard to the object. 
As the object is to our idea of it, so is explanation to defini 
tion ; explanation resolves the given phenomenon into better 
known or more familiar elements of fact, definition resolves 
the idea of it into better known or more familiar elements of 
thought. On this view it is quite natural that where there is no 
: real physical sequence, as in the case of geometrical figures, the 
! causa proxima should be different as we approach the subject 
I from one or another direction, and that, as Spinoza says, it 

L 2 


should matter little which direction we take. The causa proximo, 
of a circle, if we confine ourselves to pure geometry, is the 
revolution of a straight line. But in analytical geometry it is 
otherwise. Although it is easy to show that this process will 
give a circle, the immediate cause of a circle will not be any 
such graphical process, but the existence of a certain relation 
among the coefficients of the general equation of the second 
degree. For in analytical geometry the general notion of a 
curve of the second order is prior to that of any particular kind 
such as circle or ellipse : and from this general conception can 
be deduced not only the familiar geometrical properties of the 
circle, but others which are neither demonstrable nor intelli 
gible except from the more general point of view. 

We may also find more practical examples of that which 
(as I venture to suggest) Spinoza means to require in a defini 
tion. A chemical formula will give us a fairly good illustra 
tion. In this case the formula describes the thing exactly 
and in terms of its * immediate cause, namely, the elements 
by whose combination in definite proportions it is formed. 
And the definition itself leads to a scientific knowledge of the 
thing defined which is incomplete only by reason that our 
knowledge of the simple elements and of the dynamical laws 
according to which combination takes place is not complete. 
Or, to take another example from a science which is not 
physical, Savigny s definition of Agreement ( Vertrag) as a 
legal term furnishes us with a perfect instance of what is 
sought by Spinoza. Most of the definitions found in our 
law books, and not least the definitions of Contract, are loose 
and unsatisfying. They are vague, insufficient, and redun 
dant ; they assume knowledge of other matters that have 
never been explained ; they fail, in Spinoza s language, to 
expound the thing defined in terms of its causa proxima. But 
Savigny goes to the root of the matter and gives us a clear 
statement of the simple elements that make up the legal 
idea. His definition is accurate and exhaustive, and therefore 


fruitful. Or take, again, the minuter analysis by which the 
first chapter of the Indian Contract Act arrives at the more 
specific conception of contract. It builds up the causa 
proximo, step by step in a series of elements, none of which, 
taken alone, would have any legal effect, but which combine 
to form the complex event whose legal significance is denoted 
by the technical term. 

The last chapter of Spinoza s treatise now in hand, which 
however breaks off abruptly, shows that the way to a defini 
tion, as understood by him, was not to discuss the application 
of a word, but to consider what we know about the thing- 
denoted by it. True it is that the greater part of the words 
and ideas in ordinary use are in the present state of our know 
ledge not capable of being defined at all in this sense. The 
definition of any * natural kind, to use J. S. Mill s term, would 
have to give us not only the specific characteristics of the 
kind in question, but their immediate cause, in other words, 
to show how they come to be what they are : and it is barely 
conceivable that in this region of natural history we shall 
ever get beyond more or less probable conjecture. We have 
verae causae in natural selection, adaptation, and the like, but 
to assign the proxima causa of any existing type we should 
have to know exactly in what manner and proportions their 
effects took place in the particular instance. There is no 
reason to suppose, however, that Spinoza would have been 
afraid of saying that very few perfect definitions had been 
found or could be expected. The statement made earlier in 
the treatise (c. 4, 22) that he had as yet been able to com 
prehend but very few things with the fourth or most perfect 
kind of knowledge, ubi res percipitur per solam suam es- 
sentiam vel per cognitionem suae proximae causae, is indeed 
equivalent to this. I have little doubt that Spinoza believed 
his own definition of God, the sum and origin of all existence 
(to which we shall come afterwards) to satisfy the conditions 
here laid down by him ; I am by no means sure that he did 


not consider it the only perfect definition attainable, except 
those of geometrical and other abstfact conceptions, and 
possibly of the infinite modes. It is impossible to see how 
his requirements can be strictly complied with in the case of 
any finite thing whatever : and it is equally impossible to sup 
pose that he overlooked so manifest a difficulty. 

Spinoza s next topic is the means of knowing eternal 
things. l We must constantly derive our ideas, he says, from 
physical or really existing things, proceeding according to the 
series of causes from one really existent thing to another, and 
so as never to pass over into abstract and universal notions. 
So far there is not much difficulty in accepting his counsel ; 
but we come upon an explanation which seems to unsettle 
everything. We are bidden to note that the series of causes 
and realities here mentioned is not a series of particular and 
mutable things but only of constant and eternal ones. It 
is beyond human powers to follow up the innumerable and 
complicated sequences of particular things : but it is also 
needless, for the actual train of events or order of existence 
among finite things depends on external circumstances, and 
the very nature (intima essentid) of things is to be sought 
in the constant and eternal things/ and the laws whereof 
those things are as it were the tables, and by which the 
course of all mutable things is governed. These constant 
and eternal things are themselves particular (singularia), 
but, as they are present and operative everywhere, we must 
regard them as universal with regard to all mutable things, 
and as being the < immediate causes of all other particular 

What can these eternal things be ? The interpretation 
that lies nearest at hand for a modern reader is to identify 
them with the constant relations among phenomena which 
we now call the laws of nature. But this is evidently not 
admissible. Spinoza, the downright enemy of abstractions 

1 Cap. 14. 


and universals, knew the difference between relations and 
things far too well to confuse them in this way. Besides, he 
wanted no artificial way of describing laws of nature ; the 
name was already familiar in his time, and he could speak of 
them, when he thought fit, just as we do. In fact, he does 
speak of the eternal things as having laws of their own in 
some way attached to or involved in them, which pervade 
the whole world of phenomena. Clearly, therefore, the things 
in question are not themselves laws. Another explanation 
is offered by a writer who has done excellent work for the 
history of Spinoza s philosophical ideas, Professor Sigwart of 
Tubingen. He says with some confidence, on the strength 
of certain resemblances in language between our treatise and 
the Novum Organum, that the eternal things of Spinoza 
are identical with the Forms of Bacon s doctrine of Method. 
But surely this will not serve either. For the Baconian 
Forms are not things at all, certainly would not be recognized 
as such by Spinoza : and if we are to find a parallel in this 
treatise to what Bacon meant by the Form of a thing, it 
seems to me that it would be more hopefully sought in 
Spinoza s causa proximo,. And Spinoza s nominalism, which 
we have always to bear in mind, is a sufficient warning 
against assuming that the eternal things have anything to 
do with kinds, qualities, or classification. 

*My own opinion is perhaps too simple to be accept 
able. 1 We have just found in the chapter treating of defini 
tion that Spinoza, for whatever reason, sometimes used 
general terms when his description was really meant to 
apply to very few instances or even to a solitary one. 

1 It is not far removed from Trendelenburg s, Histor. Beitrdge zur Phil 
iii. 387. But he seems to identify Spinoza s eternal things not with the infinite 
modes themselves, but with their laws or relations. See, too, Leibnitz s marginal 
note on this passage, ap. Foucher de Careil, Leibniz, Descartes, et Spinoza, p. 123. 
It consists of this list : Deus, spatium, materia, motus, potentia universi, intel- 
lectus agens, mundus. The words in italics are cancelled. The others, I suspect, 
were meant by Leibnitz, not for an interpretation of Spinoza, but for an improve 
ment on him. 


Accordingly we need not expect to find any great number 
of eternal things/ if we succeed in finding them at all. 
There would be nothing repugnant to Spinoza s habit of 
thought and discourse if there turned out to be very few of 
them. But when the illusory expectation of a large class of 
things, representing some such higher order of existence as 
the Platonic Ideas, is once done away with, the true solution 
presents itself, as I think, readily enough. The eternal 
things are simply the infinite modes which afterwards 
occur in the Ethics, and which we have had occasion to men 
tion in speaking of the influence exercised on Spinoza by 
the physical conceptions of Descartes. 1 These are, in the 
material world, in the first place Motion, which to a disciple 
of the Cartesian physics was a real, eternal, and constant 
thing ; in the second place, as presupposing Motion, the 
material universe itself, taken as a sum of existence which 
is constant under all its changing aspects. In the world 
of thought we have, corresponding to Motion, a fact or 
process called infinite intellect; what should answer 
in thought to the sum of material things, the fades totius 
universi, we are not told. 2 We must also assume other cor 
responding facts without limit in other aspects of existence 
capable of being related to minds associated with them in 
ways analogous to the relation of the material universe to 
human thought; but these could be no part of human 
experience, nor imaginable by human faculties. This results 
from the theory of the Infinite Attributes, of which there is 
no mention in the present treatise. 

The assertion that all particular things happen according 
to the laws of the eternal things are on the view here taken 
equivalent, so far as concerns the material world, to saying 
that all physical events are ultimately explicable by dyna 
mical laws. And to what could Spinoza more appropriately 
ascribe presence in all parts and unbounded operation than 

1 P. 108, above. 2 Ep> 66> ad ^ 


to Matter and Motion ? Again, a certain configuration of 
matter under dynamical conditions would be most naturally 
described in Spinoza s language as the causa proximo, of every 
individual object. 1 But we are left without any farther light 
by Spinoza, for he goes into an auxiliary discussion of the 
nature and powers of the understanding : and with the 
chapter containing this the work breaks off. He enumerates 
the properties of the understanding, as the only practicable 
way of arriving at the full knowledge or definition of its 
nature. He speaks not of human understanding, but of the 
operations of human thought (nostras cogitationes) as depend 
ing on the nature of understanding in general : and I think 
there is room for more than a suspicion that the object of the 
definition which was never completed was to be not the 
human understanding as such, but intellectus absolute 
infinitus. We shall here take note of only one of the propo 
sitions laid down as to the properties of intellect, which throws 
light on Spinoza s distinction between understanding and 
imagination, and is the first occasion of his using a phrase on 
which the difficulties of the last Part of the Ethics may in 
great measure be said to turn. It perceives things not so 
much under the head of duration, as under a certain form of 
eternity and without finite number ; or rather it attends to the 
perception itself and not to number or duration. But when 
it imagines things, it perceives them as certain in number, 
and with a definite duration and quantity. 

This appears to mean that acts of pure intellect (such as 
the perception of a general truth in physics) are of universal 
validity and have no reference to particular events as such. 

For example, the theoretical statement of the flight of a 
projectile in a resisting medium under the influence of gravity, 

1 What Spinoza actually says, however, is that the fixa et aeterna (instead 
of the particular configurations) are themselves the causae proximae. This is not 
exact, and the comparison of this passage with Eth. i. 28 goes to show that he 
afterwards perceived the inaccuracy. 


and of the energy transferred to other bodies by its impact, 
is equally applicable at all times, everywhere, and to one or 
a thousand experiences, assuming the laws of matter and 
motion to suffer no change. It is an affirmation sub quadam 
specie aeternitatis et numero infinito. On the other hand 
the observation of the course and effects of a projectile in a 
particular experiment is the record of a specific event which 
happened at a given time and place, and otherwise under 
defined conditions : so much initial velocity, so much less at 
the end of successive seconds, so many foot-tons of striking 
energy, such and such fractures and displacements in the 
target. The facts are found sub certo numero, determinata 
duratione et quantitate. I am not unconscious that interpre 
tations of this kind are perilous ; but I believe that the present 
one is near enough to the substance of Spinoza s meaning to 
be of some assistance until a better is found. 





Know in thyself and the world one selfsame soul : 
Banish the dream that sunders the part from the whole. 

I am that which began ; 

Out of me the years roll ; 
Out of me God and man ; 
I am equal and whole ; 
God changes, and man, and the form of them bodily ; I am the soul. 


HAVING in foregoing chapters learnt to know something of 
Spinoza s habit of thought, we are now prepared to go up into 
the heart and citadel of his philosophy as we find it set forth 
in the Ethics. I have endeavoured to make the philosopher 
himself in some measure smooth the reader s path to the dif 
ficulties of his great work : but it is not to be supposed that 
these difficulties can be wholly done away. Spinoza has cast his 
thought in singular and even startling forms, and we must be 
content to grapple with the form if we mean to grasp the 
substance. Yet it may not be useless to give at one s own 
risk a sort of free translation of the thought which, according 
to the view here taken of Spinoza s general purpose, may be 
apprehended as underlying the elaborate construction of his 
metaphysic. It seems to me that in modern language it may 
be rendered somewhat as follows. 

Europe had for centuries been filled with the noise of 
scholastic discussion over questions incomprehensible to ordi 
nary sense, of which the staple was furnished by such terms as 
substance, attribute, essence, existence, eternity. And these terms 


were the established stock in trade, as it were, not only of 
philosophical language but of philosophical thought. Such 
as they were, these were the tools with which Spinoza had to 
work. Even if he could have conceived the notion of dis 
carding them altogether and inventing new ones, which how 
ever was in his circumstances not possible, it was only by 
keeping them in use that he had any prospect of inducing 
students of philosophy to listen to him. But the powerful 
and subtle minds which had exercised themselves on these 
ideas had troubled themselves but little as to their relation to 
actual things and man s knowledge of them. It was assumed 
that the foundations had been settled once for all, while the 
flood of new ideas, unseen and irresistible, was in truth ad 
vancing to break them up. The cunningly wrought structure 
of mediaeval philosophy was doomed ; and now that it has 
crumbled away philosophy goes houseless, though not des 
pairing ; for after all it is better to be a wanderer than to 
dwell in castles in the air. 

But meanwhile what was a man in Spinoza s place to do ? 
The terms were there to his hand, still the only currency of 
scholars ; the ideas for which they had been framed were 
dead or dying, and the great scientific conception of 
the unity and uniformity of the world, often seen as in 
visions, but now unveiled in all its power by Descartes, 
had already begun to spread abroad, subduing everything 
to its dominion. A sincere and unflinching eye could 
already see that in the end nothing would escape from it, not 
even the most secret recesses of human thought. Only in 
the light of this conquering idea could the old words live, if 
they were to live at all. If any vital truth lay hidden in them 
from of old, it would thus be brought out and bear its due 
fruit ; and what new life was wanting must be breathed into 
them through the new conception of the nature of things. 
This, I believe, was in effect the task Spinoza took upon him 
self. It cannot be maintained that it was altogether a pos- 



sible one ; and it is at least doubtful whether Spinoza himself 
was fully aware of its magnitude. I do not think he realized 
the extent of the revolution which was really involved in his 
use of philosophical terms. He seems to have been in perfect 
good faith shocked and surprised at the vehemence of the 
opposition excited by his opinions, though, from the point of 
view of the objectors, nothing could be more natural. He 
thought he was correcting erroneous interpretations when he 
was in truth abrogating the text. Thus we find almost 
everywhere in his work scientific and essentially modern 
thought clothed in the semblance of scholastic forms ; and 
this creates for a modern reader an illusion which it is ex 
tremely difficult to shake off. It seems at first sight a mere 
paradox to say that Spinoza is not only more scientific than 
his predecessors, but, allowing for the unavoidable defects of 
his physical knowledge, as scientific as any modern philo 
sopher whatever ; that, so far from his metaphysical principles 
being repugnant or foreign to scientific thinking, it is just 
the thoroughly scientific cast of Spinoza s thought which has 
made his work a stumbling-block to the greater part of his 
readers ; and that when he has been misunderstood, it has 
generally been because his interpreters have not had enough 
of scientific training or temper to understand him rightly. 
Nevertheless I hope to show that this apparent paradox is 

In the exposition of his philosophy Spinoza follows a 
suggestion made by Descartes, and throws it into a highly 
artificial form borrowed from the usage of geometry. There 
is the same array of definitions, axioms, propositions, and 
corollaries, as in Euclid ; and every step in the argument 
purports to be definitely warranted by something already 
demonstrated or claimed as self-evident. Only the diagrams 
are wanting to complete the external resemblance. Few 
readers will at the present time be found to doubt that this 
proceeding was on the whole unfortunate. It gives to 


Spinoza s work, in addition to its real difficulties, a needless 
air of abstruseness and technicality. 

Probably many students have been thus frightened away 
before they had made any real acquaintance with his thought. 
The geometrical form of exposition has also led to much ex 
aggerated language about the rigid consistency of Spinoza s 
system. Admirers have pushed their enthusiasm on this 
point into hyperbole, and critics, taking them at their word, 
have assumed that the whole system would be disposed of if 
they could succeed in picking holes in a few of the definitions. 
Again, critics have been misled in another way by the sup 
position that Spinoza s doctrines were intimately connected 
with the form in which they were stated ; and no small in 
genuity has been wasted on tracing his real or supposed 
mistakes to his reliance on the geometrical method. This 
oversight, though perhaps natural, might have been avoided 
by more careful consideration of Spinoza s other works, as we 
have already had occasion to point out. Lastly, it is very 
possible that in some ways this artificial mode of exposition 
had an unfavourable influence on Spinoza himself. I am 
disposed to think, in particular, that it materially disguised 
from him the nature and extent of the assumptions on which 
his work was really founded, and of the tacit appeals to ex 
perience contained in them. In geometry these appeals rest 
on a ground so broad and secure that, except for the higher 
geometry which involves discussion of the nature of geometri 
cal truth itself, it does not matter whether they are recognized 
or not : but in philosophy it is otherwise. 

It seems therefore not only permissible but desirable to 
depart considerably from the strict order of the original in the 
endeavour to give a generally intelligible outline of the Ethics. 
But we cannot altogether leave the peculiar form out of sight : 
for much that is important and characteristic depends on 
Spinoza s use of particular expressions, which cannot be 
understood without reference to his definitions. And before 



we go farther it will be convenient to translate once for all the 
Definitions of the First Part. They are as follows : 


1. By self -caused (causa sui) I understand that of which the 
essence involves existence, that is, whose nature cannot be conceived 
otherwise than as existing. 

2. A thing is called finite in its kind, which can be limited by 
another of the same nature. For example, a body is called finite, 
because we may always conceive another as greater. So a thought 
is limited by another thought. But a body is not limited by thought, 
nor a thought by body. 

^ 3. By substance I understand that which is in itself and is con 
ceived by itself ; that is, whose concept needs not the concept of 
another thing for it to be formed from. 

4. By attribute I understand that which intellect perceives con 
cerning Substance, as constituting the essence thereof. 1 

5. By mode I understand the affections of Substance, or that 
which is in somewhat else, through which also it is conceived. 

6. By God I understand a being absolutely infinite, that is, 
Substance consisting of infinite attributes, whereof each one expresses 
eternal and infinite being. 

Explanation. I say infinite absolutely, not in its own kind. For 
whatever is infinite only in its own kind may have infinite attributes 
denied of it; but if it is absolutely infinite, there belongs to its nature 2 
whatever expresses reality, 2 and involves no denial. 

7. A thing is called free, which exists by the mere necessity of its 
own nature and is determined to action by itself alone : but necessary, 
or rather constrained, if it is determined by something else to exist 
and operate in a certain determined manner. 

8. By eternity I understand existence itself, so far as it is con 
ceived to follow necessarily from the mere definition of the eternal 

Explanation. For such existence is conceived as an eternal 
truth, as well as the essence of the thing, and therefore cannot be 

1 An earlier form of this definition is given in Ep. 27 : I understand the 
same by attribute, except that it is called attribute with respect to the under 
standing, which attributes to substance such a determined nature as aforesaid. 

2 The Latin has essentiam in both places. 


explained in terms of duration or time, though its duration be con 
ceived as without beginning or end. 

Of these definitions the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth 
contain the fundamental ideas of Spinoza s metaphysic. 
The others may go without comment for the present except 
the first, which is remarkable rather for what it does not say 
than for what it says. Spinoza takes the current phrase 
causa sm, and defines it in a manner which leaves causation 
wholly out of account. In fact, his definition implies that 
the use of the word cause in this sense is really inappropriate : 
and except so far as we are left to assume the converse, 
namely, that everything which can be conceived otherwise 
than as existing must, if it does exist, be said to be caused 
by something else, he does not tell us what he understands 
by the word Cause in any other use. In the axioms, indeed 
(ax. 4) he says the knowledge of an effect depends on the 
knowledge of the cause and involves it. This must mean, if 
it is to give any acceptable sense, the knowledge of the effect 
as such ; in that sense it is obviously true, but throws no direct 
light on Spinoza s conception of causation. Yet, when we 
couple it with the absence of any further definition, it does 
appear to suggest something very much at variance with the 
notions commonly formed about Spinoza s philosophy. This 
is that, so far from regarding causation as a kind of mysterious 
power which keeps together the order of nature, Spinoza 
regarded Cause and Effect as correlated terms framed by us 
to detach parts of the order of nature from the whole for 
more convenient examination, and nothing else. We know 
that he believed with an intense and vivid belief in the con 
tinuity of all natural phenomena and processes. Several 
modern thinkers have independently come to the conclusion 
that this same continuity does not suffer us to look upon the 
notion of Cause and Effect as other than a convenient artifice 
to keep our materials within manageable bounds. It is the 


separation of that which is separable only in thought. 1 
Spinoza calls time and space, considered as measurable 
quantities, aids of the imagination : on this view causation 
would be an aid of the imagination too. But if we assume 
a real causal power or nexus, the law of causation becomes 
the most universal law of nature, prior even to that of uni 
formity ; for we might conceive the causal power to be 
universal but capricious in its operation. Had Spinoza held 
this opinion, we might surely expect to find causality promi 
nent among the * constant and eternal things which gave us 
some trouble to explain in the treatise on the Amendment of 
the Understanding (p. 150, above). It would indeed hold a 
unique and supreme position among laws of nature on 
Spinoza s system : for it would not only be universal in each 
Attribute, but common to all the Attributes. But of all this 
there is no hint, so far as I know, in any part of Spinoza s 

If the inference now suggested is correct, Spinoza would 
have said that infinite intellect forms no idea of cause and 
effect, except as being an idea present in finite minds. 2 For 
a mind possessing infinite capacity and means of knowledge 
would perceive all things at once as being, and necessarily 
being, what they are and not otherwise ; but would not 
perceive the necessity as distributed, so to speak, over the 
particular states and operations of nature. To perceive 
things as necessary is to perceive them as they are, and the 
necessity of each thing is no other than the necessity of the 

! G. H. Lewes, in Problems of Life and Mind, vol. ii. ; Mr. Shad worth Hodg 
son, in his Philosophy of Reflection, 1878 ; cf. Mr. Carveth Read s remarks in his 
Essay on the Theory of Logic, 1878 ; and see W. K. Clifford, Aims and Instru 
ments of Scientific Thought, in Lectures and Essays, Lond. 18/9, vol. i. p. 149. 
Cf. also Trend elenburg s suggestion (Hist or. Beitrdge, iii. 275), that Causation 
in general (die abstracte Causalitat) may be resolved into the idea of Motion ; 
Motion being considered as equally real on the subjective and the objective side. 

2 The position suggested might be expressed in Spinoza s language thus : In 
Dei infinite intellectu non dari obiective ideam causae singularis ; sive tantum 
eatenus dari, quatenus humanac mentis naturam constituit. 



universal order. 1 If it had occurred to any correspondent to 
put to Spinoza the particular question here proposed, we 
should possibly have had a decisive answer. As it is, we are 
left to conjecture, but not without probability to guide us. 
Spinoza does actually say that infinite intellect forms no 
general ideas. Therefore, in addition to what has been 
already said, there seems to be no alternative between hold- 

!i ing that Spinoza regarded cause and effect as merely the 
machinery of finite conceptions, and that he thought causa- 

j tion as much a real thing as matter and motion. 

What is it that Spinoza regards as self-caused within 
the meaning of his first definition ? The reply is given by 
the definition of Substance and by the chain of propositions 
formally showing that the two coincide. Substance is that 
which is in itself or self-subsistent, and is conceived by or 
through itself, that is, without assuming anything else to exist. 
In other words, it can be conceived as existing without any 
external reason for its existence. But we cannot seriously 
apply such a conception to anything short of the whole sum 
of being, within which we may seek for the reason of particular 
things, but outside which we cannot go. Explanation is of 
the relations between particular things ; the universe in its 
entirety is inexplicable. And to say of the universe, in the 
scholastic language retained by Spinoza, that its essencejn- 
volves existence, does not really import any greater assump 
tion than that something does exist. It may indeed be asked 
what we mean by existence ; and the question is not only a 
reasonable but an important one. But this way of consider 
ing the general problem of knowledge belongs to a later age 
than Spinoza s, and it is useless to complain of him for not 
having formally anticipated it. Anything, then, which is sus 
ceptible of explanation, derivation, or subordination to some 
thing outside it, is not Substance in Spinoza s meaning. 

Attribute is that which is perceived as constituting the 

1 Eth. ii. 44. 


nature of Substance ; and to understand Spinoza s view we 
must dismiss from our mind the common use of the term. If 
we think of Spinoza s Substance as distinct from and under 
lying the Attributes, as being, so to speak, at the back of the 
Attributes and guarded by them against any closer approach, 
we shall certainly go wrong. Attribute is perceived, not as 
merely belonging to Substance, but as constituting its nature. 
^Substance is indeed manifested in the Attributes, but there 
is not an inaccessible reality behind the manifestations. The 
manifestations are themselves the reality ; Substance consists 
of the attributes and has no reality other than theirs. As for 
the suggestion that the perception of the understanding in 
this respect may be illusory, in other words that the reality of 
things is unknowable, it is one which Spinoza was incapable 
of entertaining : it is wholly foreign to his thought, and I 
submit that it ought so to be to all sound thinking. This is 
not the place to enter on a general metaphysical discussion ; 
but I may be permitted to say here shortly, by way of clear 
ing the ground, that to me it amounts to a contradiction in 
terms to speak of unknowable existence or unknowable 
reality in an absolute sense. I cannot tell what existence 
means, if not the possibility of being known or perceived. 
This position, implicitly contained in Spinoza s definitions, was 
explicitly taken up, and, as I venture to think, in the main 
conclusively established, by Berkeley. Since his time philo 
sophy has done something, and science much, to confirm his 
work. But I do not know that the point will bear much 
labouring ; it is too fundamental. One accepts it, or one does 
not, and the whole view of the character and possibilities of 
metaphysic depends on this primary decision. For the pre 
sent, however, our chief concern is not. to defend Spinoza s 
conception, but to ascertain what it actually was. And I 
think there can hardly be a reasonable doubt that for Spinoza 
to exist and to be intelligible were all one. Substance is not 
an Unknowable, Noumenon, or Ding an sick, nor are the 

M 2 


Attributes forms imposed on it by the human mind. Yet, 
when we have settled what the Attributes are not, there is no 
small difficulty in finding an unexceptionable term to describe 
what they are. They are not forms of Substance, as we have 
seen ; neither are they operations or energies, for that also 
would make Substance prior to and distinct from them ; and 
much less are we to be misled by any false analogy to Neo- 
Platonic fancies of emanations and the like. The least un 
satisfactory word I can suggest is aspect, which has already 
been used by modern writers with virtually the same meaning. 
Attribute, as Spinoza himself said in the earlier form of the 
definition, is Substance itself as known and identified by the 
understanding. The division of attributes, as far as human 
knowledge goes, is the ultimate division of experience into 
subjective and objective, or mental and material. We know 
a world of things extended in space, to the understanding of 
which, so far as we can understand them, the laws of matter 
and motion are our sole and sufficient guide. This is, in 
Spinoza s language, Substance perceived under the Attribute 
of Extension. Again, we know a world of thoughts, feelings, 
mental events, or however we may call its elements, to which 
the notions of space and extension are wholly inapplicable ; 
we cannot ascribe mass to a sensation, or resolve a thought 
into atoms. And this is the domain of Substance perceived 
under the Attribute of Thought. 

It is to be observed that, inasmuch as Attribute is defined 
by reference to intellect, and Thought is itself an attribute, 
Thought appears to be in a manner counted twice over. 

N Likewise Extension and Thought, although they are the only 

Attributes we have anything to do with, are in Spinoza s view 

only two out of an infinite number. But the difficulties that 

arise on both these points are better postponed for a while. 

As for the modes or affections of Substance, they are 

/ nothing else than particular things. Every material object is 
a mode of Extension, arid every feeling is a mode of Thought. 


It will as a rule be found a help to the apprehension of 
Spinoza s meaning to read thing for mode ; remembering that 
any aggregate whatever, within the limits of the same Attri 
bute, may be taken as a single thing ; and that this extends 
even to the whole material universe, and to the sum of all 
thought. The whole contents of any Attribute are regarded 
by Spinoza as an. in finite mode. But his acceptance of motion 
as a real thing of constant quantity compelled him to regard 
Motion as an infinite Mode by itself, and more immediately 
produced by God, or dependent on the very nature of the 
attribute of Extension, than Matter ; since the sensible world, 
facies totius universi, is not matter alone, but matter diver 
sified by motion. This peculiarity has no sensible effect on 
the general bearings of Spinoza s philosophy. 1 

The definition of God as substance consisting of infinite 
attributes, whereof every one expresses eternal and infinite 
being, brings us face to face with Spinoza s metaphysical im 
agination in the full extent of its daring. In the eleventh 
proposition of the First Part of the Ethics he formally de 
monstrates that this absolutely perfect being exists. Most 
people are content nowadays, when they set about explaining 
the nature of things, to assume that there is something to be 
explained ; and if that were all, Spinoza s proof that the 
universe exists might be left aside as an historical curiosity. 
But there is more than one reason for dwelling on it. Spinoza 
follows in form, and even in language, the examples made 
familiar by theologians, and philosophers under theological 
influence or pressure, who had undertaken to prove the exist 
ence of a being apart from and above the universe. He does 
not simply break off from theological speculation and seek to 
establish philosophy on an independent footing ; he seems 
intent on showing that theological speculation itself, when 

1 The doctrine of the Infinite Modes is given in Eth. I. 21-23, Dut in such 
general language that it would be unintelligible without the parallel passages in 
Ep. 66 and elsewhere. See p. 108, 152 above. 


reason is once allowed free play, must at last purge itself of 
anthropomorphism and come round to the scientific view. 
Spinoza does not ignore theology, but provides an euthanasia 
for it; and there is every reason to believe that in so doing 
he faithfully reproduces the development of his system in his 
own mind. Hence his work has a peculiar fascination for 
liberal-minded theologians, and from the very first has excited 
the violent abhorrence of the more orthodox ones. There 
were similar grounds, as was remarked in our first chapter, 
for the exceeding bitterness of the opposition encountered by 
the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. 

If Spinoza swallows up speculative theology in philosophy, 
he is equally determined not to confine the range of philoso 
phical construction within the bounds of human experience. 
Rejecting the theological conception of the universe as created 
and governed by a magnified human despot, which indirectly 
makes man the measure of all things, Spinoza was not more 
willing to accept the contrary form of anthropomorphism 
which admits no reality of things outside what is known to 
ourselves. And he was determined withal not to give up the 
substance and reality of the knowledge we have in the search 
for some other imagined reality which might peradventure 
turn out a shadow. Thus encompassed with dangers, he 
escaped from them by a flight of speculation as daring and 
splendid as any that human intellect has achieved. The God 
of Spinoza is not merely Substance, but Substance consisting 
of infinite attributes. The infinity of attributes is deduced 
from the perfection and reality of Substance. Perfection and 
reality are with Spinoza synonymous terms. 1 Whatever exists 
must exist as much as it can ; and that whose nature is to 
exist, or which exists of itself, is under no possible restraint 
either internal or external which could set bounds to its exist 
ence. Therefore it will exist with infinite reality, in every 
possible way, and we must ascribe to it infinite attributes. 
1 Eth. 2, def. 6. 


The existent universe, though not the world accessible to a 
particular order of finite minds, must include every possible 
consequence of infinite being, and there is no real distinction 
between the actual and the possible. 

Let us endeavour to put this in a shape more congenial 
to modern habits of thought. We know the world under 
the Attributes or aspects of extension and thought, and in 
each kind the sum of reality appears to be inexhaustible. 
Our world consists of modes of extension associated with 
modes of thought : the two orders of events being, as Spinoza 
sets forth later, strictly correlated and parallel. But we have 
no right to assume that this is the only world : for this would 
be to set bounds to infinite being. How can we tell what 
other aspects existence may not have to intelligence other 
than ours ? We can conceive, though not imagine, relations 
of thought to other worlds analogous to those which we per 
ceive between thought and extension. For all we can ever 
know there may be endless aspects of existence unimaginable 
to us. That which to the modern thinker appears as a specu 
lative possibility, forbidding us to affirm that human know 
ledge is everything, appeared to Spinoza as a positive necessity, 
and he affirmed, the infinity of Attributesjas required by the 
perfection of Substance. Things must exist, not only after the 
manner in which they are manifested to us, but in every 
manner which infinite understanding can conceive. Yet that 
which we do perceive is not a part or fraction of the reality ; 
for the Attributes unknown to us express, as Spinoza says, in 
infinite ways the very same reality of things which we know, 
or may conceivably know, under the Attributes of Thought 
and Extension. In each Attribute the same order and 
sequence is repeated in the aspect or expression proper to 
that Attribute. Differing in kind, they are strictly homologous 
and parallel in form. A geometrical illustration may help 
us to understand Spinoza s conception. Let any one of the 
Attributes be likened to an infinite plane, and let figures be 


drawn all over the plane. The figures may then stand for the 
Modes, or particular things, comprised under that Attribute : 
and the whole plane itself, considered as a figured surface, 
will represent an infinite Mode. Now let us suppose an in 
finite number of other planes to be taken, and figures to be 
drawn on them similar and similarly situated to those drawn 
upon the first. Further, we suppose the figures to vary con 
tinuously, and the variations to be similar and correspondent 
in all the planes, so that at all times the configuration of all the 
planes is identical. Intelligent beings living on one of these 
planes and confined to two dimensions could have no imagina 
tion of any surface outside their plane, which however is to 
observers furnished with normal organs of sense in three di 
mensions only one plane arbitrarily selected out of an infinite 
number as the * plane of the paper. Yet such beings might 
conceive, though they could not imagine, the configurations of 
which they had experience as being repeated on infinite other 
planes inaccessible to their faculties. This is the sort of cor 
respondence assumed by Spinoza to hold good between all 
the Attributes. But the illustration is imperfect in this, that 
there is no reason in the nature of the supposed case why the ^ 
figures on different planes should not be dissimilar : whereas 
in Spinoza s view of the universe the corresponding modes in 
different attributes are not different things at all, but the same 
thing differently expressed. Thus there is no room for diver 
gence ; there are not infinite and similar orders of things 
running parallel to one another, but one order in infinite ma 
nifestations. The order itself is the same in every "aspect, 
somewhat as in the symbolical operations of mathematics the 
development of a function remains constant in form, whatever 
values we may give to the variables. 

The parallelism of the Attributes includes as a particular 
case the exact correspondence of body and mind, to which 
the Cartesian school was already committed, though its 
founder tried to effect a compromise with prevailing notions 


by means of the doctrine of animal spirits : a doctrine which, 
as we have seen, was followed by Spinoza himself in his earlier 
essay * Of God and Man. By the time he wrote the Ethics 
he was convinced that such a compromise was untenable ; and 
there can be little doubt that his final and complete accept 
ance of the correlation of mind and body rested on grounds 
which we should now call scientific, the same in fact on 
which the most eminent of recent and living psychologists 
have come to the same conclusion. Hence, while the infinity 
of the Attributes was determined by a supposed necessity / 
of speculation, the parallelism which constitutes the original ; 
and peculiar feature of this part of Spinoza s system appears , 
to be an extension of the parallelism already fixed in Spinoza s 
view of the world of human experience as a necessity of 
scientific thought. It is to be observed that without this 
feature the Infinite Attributes would be a mere formless vision 
of unseen worlds, such as have abounded both before and 
since the time of Spinoza. So that even when Spinoza goes 
farthest in overleaping the bounds of experience, it is still 
the scientific element that gives consistence and definition to 
his work. 

We may now see that although nothing outside Extension 
and Thought can affect human knowledge or impeach its 
reality, the Infinite Attributes are not merely ornamental. 
Spinoza s purpose is to keep a clear course between 
materialism on the one hand and subjective idealism on the 
other. He makes extension and thought equally real, and 
co-ordinate not only with one another but with infinite 
other aspects of existence. Thus the system is obviously not 
materialism. 1 It is no less remote from the subjective 
idealism which turns the universe into a phantom. It is 

1 Except in the nomenclature of certain modern writers, who signify by 
materialist (as appears by their usage, though they do not give themselves the 
pains so to define it) any one who does not admit some dogma, generally that of 
free-will, affirmed by the particular writer to be essential to religion and morality. 


proof even against the objections to which Berkeley s idealism 
is exposed. Professor Huxley, in his essay on Berkeley, sup 
poses a piano to be conscious of sound and of nothing else. 
It would become acquainted with a system of nature entirely 
composed of sounds, and the laws of nature would be the 
laws of melody and of harmony ; and, having no conception 
of any other sort of existence, it might reason thus : All my 
knowledge consists of sounds and the perception of the 
relation of sounds ; now the being of sound is to be heard ; 
and it is inconceivable that the existence of the sounds I 
know should depend upon any other existence than that of 
the mind of a hearing being. But we know that the exist 
ence of these sounds requires, besides the mind of a hearing 
being, the structure of wood and metal which makes the 
visible and tangible piano, and a musician to play upon it. 1 
So that the Berkeleian piano would be mistaken, though by 
the hypothesis it could never have proof of its error. Now 
let us vary the supposition and make it reason after Spinoza s 
manner. It would then say something of this kind : Existence 
is manifest to me in Thought and Sound : these are the At 
tributes under which I perceive the reality of things, and each 
is infinite and perfectly real in its own kind. But I may not 
assume that these are the only possible aspects of existence, 
though they are the only ones that fall within my apprehen 
sion. The fulness of things must be infinite in infinite kinds, 
and must be expressed in infinite wa^s_besides these two of 
Thought and Sound. The auditory consciousness of our 
speculative piano would thus vindicate the reality of its per 
ceptions as far as they went, or the identity of esse and percipi 
within the supposed limits of its faculties, and yet its specu 
lation would leave ample room for the existence of the 
material piano, the musician, and the world in general. 
Substitute Extension for Sound in Professor Huxley s parable 

1 Critiques and Addresses, p. 349. 


as thus varied, and we have Spinoza s view of the relation of 
human knowledge to the totality of existence. 

The first remark on Spinoza s hypothesis that occurs to a 
modern reader, being probably the last that would have 
occurred to any of his contemporaries, is that by the nature 
of the case it is incapable of verification. But perhaps that 
objection is not conclusive ; for it is at least open to grave 
doubt whether any metaphysical hypothesis can be brought 
to this test, or can have, to use the Kantian phrase, any 
other than a regulative value. Leaving this point aside, we 
have to see whether Spinoza s theory is consistent in itself, 
and gives a consistent interpretation of our actual experience. 
And, notwithstanding its apparent symmetry, closer inspec 
tion shows that the difficulties are insuperable. Spinoza 
found himself, indeed, unable to resolve the doubts pro 
pounded by Tschirnhausen, whose letters will compare very 
favourably with most of the modern criticism on the Ethics. 
Man is, as we know by all our experience, an extended and 
thinking being, and nothing else. But, according to Spinoza, 
the reality of everything is expressed in infinite ways. Mind 
and body are only two expressions or aspects out of an in 
finite number: how then do these two come to be exclusively 
associated ? Why are the other Attributes unknown to us ? 
And are we to suppose those Attributes to constitute other 
worlds perceived by finite creatures who have no notion of 
Extension ? l Such is the effect of Tschirnhausen s first set 
of questions. The answer he received 2 failed to satisfy him ; 
and in truth it is not only obscure, but seems to evade the 
main difficulty. Spinoza says that the human mind knows 
only thought and extension, because it is nothing else than a 
mode of thought associated with a particular body or mode 
of extension (idea corporis actu existentis). But the difficulty 
is just to see how this dual association is to be reconciled with 

1 Ep. 65, 2 Ep. 66. 


the symmetrical co-ordination of all the Attributes. Tschirn- 
hausen returned, courteously but stoutly, to the attack. 

* I well perceive/ he says, that in your system the universe is 
one, and not many ; but it is no less clear from the very passage 
to which you refer me l that it is expressed in infinite ways, and there 
fore that the being of every single thing is so expressed. 

Whence it seems to follow that though the modification con 
stituting my mind and the modification constituting my body be one 
and the same, yet that modification is expressed in infinite ways ; once 
under thought, again under extension, thirdly under an attribute of 
God to me unknown, and so on to infinity ; for the attributes of God 
are infinite, and the order and connexion of the modifications is, as 
I understand, the same in all. Hence arises this question : why the 
mind which embodies (repraesentat) a certain modification, which 
modification is expressed, not only in extension, but in infinite other 
ways why, I say, the mind perceives that modification only as ex 
pressed in extension, (that is, the human body) and no other expression 
of it under other attributes ? 2 

Spinoza s reply, apparently only a part of the letter in 
which it was given, is so brief that it may be translated in 

In answer to your objection I say that, although every particular 
thing is expressed in infinite ways in the infinite understanding of 
God, yet those infinite ideas whereby it is expressed cannot constitute 
one and the same mind of a particular thing, but constitute infinite 
minds ; inasmuch as these infinite ideas have severally no connexion 
among themselves, as I have explained in the aforesaid scholium to 
Prop. 7, Part 2 of the Ethics, and appears from Prop. 10, Part i. If 
you will sufficiently apply yourself to these, you will see that no 
difficulty remains. 3 

Spinoza seems to say that every Mode of every Attribute 
other than Thought has a several mind or modification of 
thought to itself. Even the intellectus absolute infinitus appears 
to be manifold, so that eachjnfinite mode of thought is appro 
priated to one Attribute only, and they are infinite in number. 
1 Eth. ii. 7, schol. 2 Ep. 67. Ep. 68v . ^ 



The result is that the modes of Thought are numerically 
equal to the modes of all the other Attributes together ; in 
other words, Thought, instead "of being co-equal with the 
infinity of other Attributes, is infinitely infinite, and has a pre 
eminence which is nowhere explicitly accorded to it. 1 But if 
we go back to the definition we find that this pre-eminence 
has all the while been implied. For Attribute is * that which 
understanding perceives concerning substance as constituting 
the essence thereof. Thus the ground is cut from under the 
apparent equality of the Attributes ; and, though the system 
escapes the snares of subjective idealism, it does not escape 
idealism altogether. In order to judge Spinoza s attempt 
rightly, we must face the question whether such an escape 
was possible at all. If, as I think, his failure was due not to 
any want of philosophical power or ingenuity, but to the 
nature of the problem itself, it will be no mere exercise of 
historical curiosity to undertake a narrower scrutiny of his 
conception. Before we do this, one or two other difficulties 
may be mentioned. In a continuation of the correspondence 
already referred to, Tschirnhausen calls on Spinoza to show 
how the existence and variety of extended things is to be 
deduced a priori from the Attribute of extension. It is not 
very clear whether Spinoza thought himself bound to meet 
such a challenge or not ; at all events he was not ready with 
an answer. 2 If we regard his metaphysic as an attempt not 
only to interpret human experience as it is, but to demon 
strate that it must be what it is, Tschirnhausen s question 
was, as Trendelenburg says, a shot into the white. But it 
loses all significance if we treat the system as in truth rest 
ing on a foundation of empirical facts, and professing not to 
construct the world a priori, but only to make the world in 
telligible. And this we are entitled to do for our present 

1 Cf. Erdmann, Grundriss der Gesch. der Philosophic, 272, 5, 6 (vol. ii. 
pp. 55-6i). 

2 Epp. 71, 72. 


purposes, though Spinoza himself might not have been con 
tent to accept such a limitation of his aims. There are still, 
however, other stumbling-blocks. It is part of Spinoza s theory 
that everything possible must actually exist j 1 and the objec 
tion that it ought all to exist at once, or else it must be 
shown why one thing should exist before another, is not ade 
quately met by saying that duration in time is only a relative 
conception in finite minds. The same principle has yet 
another strange consequence. Spinoza had, of course, no 
suspicion that the properties of Extension could be conceiv 
ably different from those assumed in ordinary geometry, and 
verified in all our experience as far as verification has gone. 
But modern geometers have shown that such differences are 
perfectly conceivable, and that an indefinite number of con 
sistent geometrical systems may be framed with axioms 
contradicting in various ways those of Euclid : and this in 
the range of three dimensions, without any reference to the 
more knotty question whether space of more than three 
dimensions is conceivable or not. So that a thoroughgoing 
Spinozist, could such an one be found at the present day, 
would have to believe that all conceivable geometries are 
realized in as many worlds of extension in three dimensions, 
presumably with varied dynamical laws to match ; and if he 
believed space of more than three dimensions to be conceiv 
able, he would also have to believe in infinite worlds of in 
finite dimensions as actually existing. Besides all this, he 
would have to suppose corresponding modifications running 
through the infinite parallel series of all the other Attributes. 
One may doubt if even the boldest metaphysician of modern 
times, or the thinker most eager to find room for the free 
play of a constructive philosophy untrammelled by the con 
ditions of experience, would care to take upon himself such a 
burden of unseen worlds as this. 

Let us now turn to the main point of Spinoza s implicit 
1 Eth. i. 1 6. 


idealism. What is the conclusion to which it really points ? 
What would Spinoza have done if he had not been uncon 
sciously hampered by a remnant of Cartesian dualism? We 
have to observe that each Attribute is complete in itself : the 
possibility of mutual interference is rigorously excluded. The 
perception of things as extended is not a relation between 
the extended thing and the perceiving mind, for they are in 
commensurable. Every extended thing has its correlate in 
Thought, whether that correlate is part of a conscious mind 
or not ; and when it is a perception in a conscious mind, 
the perception is a mode of Thought and nothing else. And 
the thing correlated to the perception is not the object per 
ceived, but the organism of the perceiving subject. The 
series of ideas or modes of Thought is whole and continu 
ous ; no other Attribute has any part in it. How then can 
we say that Thought perceives Extension ? or what ground 
have we for making Extension co-ordinate with Thought, 
and in some way, which nevertheless is not causation, 
necessary to its manifestations ? Putting out of sight the 
supposed a priori necessity for an infinity of Attributes, let 
us assume Extension and all its modes to be blotted out of 
existence. Thought and its modes will by the hypothesis 
remain unaffected ; every mental correlate of a material fact 
will be precisely what it was before ; the psychical order of 
things, ordo et connexio idearum, will be unaltered. In other 
words, there will be no effect on the perceptions which take 
place in any mind, and though Extension be annihilated as 
an independent Attribute, no thinking being will miss it. 
The difference would be sensible only to an infinite intelli 
gence placed as a spectator outside the universe and all its 
Attributes ; but such an intelligence we are forbidden to 
suppose, for the universe can have nothing outside it. The 
same reasoning applies to all the other unknown Attributes. 
Hence all the Attributes except Thought are really super 
fluous : and Spinoza s .doctrine, when thus reduced to its 


simplest terms, is that nothing exists but thought and its 
modifications. Feeling, or something commensurable with 
L Feeling, is the only unit and measure of reality. The ulti 
mate elements of thought are not merely correlated with the 
ultimate elements of things ; they are the elements of things 
themselves. For, when the principle of continuity is once 
admitted, there is no need to assume any other. And this 
view, strange as it may seem at first sight, may be arrived at by 
divers ways. It may be reached even through the notion of a 
thing-in-itself or substratum of phenomena; and Kant was on 
the very point of thus reaching it, but left it aside. Accept 
ing the alleged necessity for a substratum, noumenon, or 
whatever else it may be called, to support our phenomenal 
experience, we must admit that of the nature of this substra 
tum, as it is in itself, we know nothing whatever. Therefore 
1 the substratum may as well be of the nature of mind as any 
thing else. But mind is the one sort of real existence of 
which we have direct experience ; it is that which is known 
in conscious feeling. And, seeing that a known kind of 
existence will satisfy the conditions required of the substra 
tum, we have no occasion to postulate other unknown kinds. 
Indeed, the law of economy forbids us thus to multiply 
entities without need. Kant s authority, no doubt, is against 
this last conclusion ; for he deliberately refused to proceed to it. 
His reasons, however, were not strictly scientific, as they are 
inseparable, historically if not formally, from his determina 
tion to reserve an inaccessible world of things-in-themselves 
as a field 1 for the exercise, assumed to be indispensable, of a 
Practical Reason whose demands could not be satisfied in the 


region of real knowledge. But Kant s own language on the 
subject is too important to be omitted : I give it accordingly 
in a free translation : 

It has been proved that bodies are only phenomena of our out- 
1 Or might one say playground ? Spielraum, at any rate, is an innocent term. 


ward sense, not things in themselves. Accordingly we may affirm 
that our thinking self is not bodily in this sense, that, being conceived 
as an object of the inner sense, it cannot, so far as it is a thinking 
thing, be an object of outward sense or a phenomenon in space. In 
other words, thinking things as such can never occur among outward 
phenomena ; we can have no outward perception of their thoughts, 
consciousness, desires, &c. ; for all this is the domain of the inward 


But though extension, impenetrability, cohesion and motion, in 
short everything we obtain exclusively through the outward sense, 
cannot be or contain thought, feeling or the like, which in no case can 
be objects of outward perception ; yet the something which underlies 
the outward phenomena, and so affects our sense as to furnish it with 
the notions of space, matter, form, &c. this something, I say, con 
sidered as noumenon, might well be the subject of thoughts, though 
we obtain from it through the outward sense no perception of ideas, 
will or the like, but only of space and its modifications. This some 
thing, whatever it be, has in itself none of the qualities of matter, such 
as extension, impenetrability and the like; for statements about these 
qualities are statements about our perceptions. But the qualities 
proper to the inner sense, namely, ideas and thought, may be ascribed 
to it without contradiction. . . . Matter is complex as a phenomenon, 
but only as a phenomenon : and I am free to assume that it is in 
itself simple, and that the substance which to our outward sense is 
extended is in itself accompanied by thoughts capable of being re 
presented in consciousness by an inward sense of its own. In this 
way the same thing that in one aspect is called bodily would in 
another be a thinking being, of which we could not perceive the 
thought, but could perceive the signs of it in the phenomenon. Then 
we should no longer say that only souls think, assuming soul to be a 
special kind of Substance ; we should say, with common speech, that 
men think, in other words that the same thing which as an outward 
phenomenon is extended is inwardly or in itself a Subject, which is not 
composite, but which is simple and thinks. * 

Kant, however, threw out this hypothesis only for a special 
purpose, and did not pursue it. The closeness of the approach 
to Spinoza, of which Kant was probably not aware, is most 
striking ; and the suggestion differs only in one point from 

1 Kritik der r. V. I st ed. Kr. des zweiten Paralogismus der transsc. Psychalogit, 
pp. 287-8, Rosenkr., 304-6, Kehrbach {in Universal-Bibliothek}. 



the result which follows, as above pointed out, from develop 
ing the implicit idealism of Spinoza s theory of the Attributes. 
The difference is that Kant assumes the ideal or psychical 
thing-in-itself, or rather substitute for the thing-in-itself, to be 
a simple subject or monad. In Spinoza s system, on the other 
hand, as well as in the simplified form of it here proposed, the 
ultimate fact is not only represented, but adequately repre 
sented, by the phenomenon. The inward fact, or mode of 
thought, corresponds point for point with the outward fact, or 
mode of extension, and is complex in the same proportion. We 
must remember, however, that the inner and the outer world 
are not really different and parallel, but one and the same world 
under two aspects. This, indeed, is expressly and repeatedly 
stated by Spinoza. The process of criticism we have just 
gone through, supposing it to be legitimate, does not affect 
the substantial and working value of Spinoza s metaphysic. 
The effect is only to strip it of brilliant but dangerous orna 
ments, and lay open the speculative ground on which it really 
stands. How Spinoza uses his metaphysical conception as a 
groundwork for psychology, and with what success, we shall 
see in due time. 

Jacobi, who only half understood Spinoza, made the ex 
traordinary statement that no man may profess to understand 
him so long as he finds a single line of the Ethics obscure. 
The saying is one of those which produce a cheap effect by 
reckless disregard of the real difficulties. Lessing and Goethe 
knew better. And as to more recent philosophers and critics, 
it is hardly too much to say that no two of them have under 
stood the metaphysical principles of the Ethics in precisely 
the same manner. This being so, I am far from claiming or ex 
pecting general acceptance for the interpretation above given ; 
I am content if I have made it intelligible. On the other hand 
the bearing of Spinoza s principles in their application to human 
nature is clear enough, and I do not know that his practical 
results have ever been found obscure except by those who 


were determined not to understand, though opinions differ as 
widely as possible as to their correctness and value. Whether 
the criticism of the purely speculative part be found interest 
ing depends on one s belief or taste as to metaphysics in 
general. The reader who thinks metaphysics an impossibility 
or a useless luxury will probably have quitted me several 
pages back. For those who remain it may be worth while to 
sum up the criticism in a more technical form than I have yet 
allowed myself. Spinoza s Attributes are in effect defined as 
objects, or rather as objective worlds. I?ut the general form 
of the definitipn,disguises the all-important fact that the world 
of Thought, and that alone, is subjective and objective at once. 
The intellect which perceives an Attribute as constituting 
the essence of Substance, itself belongs to the Attribute of 
Thought. Thus, if we push analysis further, we find that 
Thought swallows up all the other Attributes ; for all conceiv 
able Attributes turn out to be objective aspects of Thought 
itself. Spinoza does indeed return, but too late, to the double 
aspect of Thought : l and the formal part of his system re 
mains a magnificent attempt at an impossible symmetry of 
the universe, in which thought vainly struggles to escape from 
its own fundamental conditions, and to conquer new worlds 
beyond the inexorable boundaries of experience. 

It has been seen how great a part is played by infinity in 
the system ; we have Attributes, infinite in number and in their 
several kinds, infinite Modes, and the like. It is evidently 
material to know what precise meaning was attached by 
Spinoza to the term. The explanation is partly given in the 
Ethics : but we have to look chiefly to the letter to Dr. 
Meyer where, in answer to his friend s inquiries, Spinoza dis 
cusses the problem. He incidentally sets forth his view of 
other metaphysical conceptions which, though secondary and 
auxiliary, are of great importance. After a complimentary 
introduction Spinoza proceeds thus (Ep. 29) : 

1 Eth. ii. 20, 21, 43. 

N 2 


1 The question of the infinite has always been considered very 
difficult, nay inexplicable, by those who have handled it, because 
they have not distinguished between that which is concluded to be 
infinite by its own nature, that is, by virtue of its definition, and that 
which is without limits by virtue not of its essence but of its cause 
(in modern language, between that which cannot be conceived as 
finite, and that which as a matter of fact is indefinite in quantity) ; 
again they have not distinguished between a thing called infinite 
from having no limit, and a thing whose parts cannot be measured 
or expressed by any number, though a greatest and a least magnitude 
of the thing itself can be assigned ; finally, because they have not 
distinguished between that which we can only understand but not 
imagine, and that which we can as well imagine as understand. Had 
they attended, I say, to these points, they would never have been 
overwhelmed by such a crowd of difficulties. For then they would 
have clearly understood what kind of infinite quantity is not capable 
of having or being divided into parts, and what without any contradic 
tion is so. They would likewise have understood what kind of 
infinite may without any repugnance be greater than another infinite, 
and what kind may not be so conceived, as will plainly appear from 
what I shall presently say/ 

He shortly recapitulates his technical use of the terms 
substance, mode, eternity, and duration. Duration, he says, is 
a term applicable only to the existence of particular things 
or modes. To substance belongs eternity, that is, infinite 
faculty (fruitionem) of existence or being. When we con^ 
sider the existence and duration of particular things with 
regard to those things only, and apart from the order of 
nature, we may freely conceive it as bounded, greater or less, 
and divided into parts, without in any way contradicting 
our conception of the thing. But eternity and substance 
cannot be conceived as limited : therefore if we seek to apply 
the conceptions of limit and measure to them the principal 
conception is already gone. 

* Wherefore they talk idly, not to say madly, who think extended 
substance to be made up of parts or bodies really distinct from one 
another, . . . and all that heap of arguments with which philosophers 
commonly go about to show that extended substance is finite falls to 


pieces of itself. In the same case are others who, having persuaded 
themselves that a line is made up of points, have succeeded in find 
ing many arguments to show that a line is not infinitely divisible. 1 

Now if you ask why we are by nature so prone to treat extended 
substance as divisible, I answer, because quantity is conceived by us / 
in two manners : to wit, by abstraction or superficially, as it is present 
to us in imagination through the senses, or in its quality of substance, 
which can be done only by the understanding. So that if we con-\ 
sider quantity as it is in the imagination (which is the common and 
easy way), it will be found divisible, finite, made up of parts, and 
manifold. But if we consider substance as it is in the understanding, 
and the thing is considered as it is in itself (i.e. as Substance ; for only 
Substance is in itself} which is exceedingly difficult, then, as I have 
at former times sufficiently shown you, it will be found infinite,, 
indivisible, and single. 

Again, from the fact that we can assign bounds to duration and 
quantity at our pleasure (that is, when we conceive quantity ab 
stractedly, apart from Substance, and separate duration in our thought 
from the manner of its derivation from eternal things), there arise time 
and measure ; time being conceived in order to determine duration, 
measure in order to determine quantity, so that we may most 
conveniently represent them in imagination. Then from the fact that 
we separate the affections of substance from substance itself and 
reduce them to classes for the like convenience of our imagination, 
there arises number, whereby we determine the same. Whence it is 
plainly to be seen that measure, time, and number are nothing else 
than ways of thinking, or rather of imagining. 2 Therefore it is no 
wonder that all who have attempted to understand the course of 
nature by means of notions of this kind, and those too ill under 
stood, have so marvellously entangled themselves that at last they 
could find no escape but by breaking all bounds and committing 
themselves to absurdities beyond measure. 

Hence the attempt to explain the ideas of substance, 
eternity, or the like, which belong purely to the understand- 

1 Cf. Eth. i. 15, schol. 

2 Cf. Cogit. Met. part i. c. I, 4. Ad rem deinde explicandam etiam modos 
cogitandi habemus, determinando scilicet earn per comparationem ad aliam. Modi 
cogitandi quibus id efficimus vocantur tempus, numerus, mensura, et si quae 
adhuc alia sunt. Horum autem tempus inservit durationi explicandae, numerus 
quantitati discretae, mensura quantitati continuae : and part ii. c. 4. 


ing, by means of conceptions which are mere aids of the 
imagination, is necessarily futile. It is like applying the in 
tellectual tests of sanity and insanity to acts of pure imagina 
tion (nihilo plus agit quam si det operam ut sua imaginatione 
insaniat). Even finite things cannot be rightly understood if 
we confound their reality with these aids of the imagination. 
For instance, if one confounds duration with measurable 
time, and goes about to divide it into parts, it is impossible to 
understand the lapse of time. To bring an hour to an end, 
half the hour must first pass, then half of the residue, then 
half of the next remainder, and so on without end : 

Wherefore many who are not used to distinguish abstractions 
from reality have made bold to assert that duration is compounded 
of instants, and so have fallen into Scylla in flying from Charybdis. 
For it is all one to compound duration out of instants and to make 
number by adding up noughts. 

We have here, it will be observed, Spinoza s answer to the 
standing puzzles as to the impossibility of motion, the difficulty 
of conceiving matter as either being or not being infinitely 
divisible, the contradictions implied in assuming time to have 
had or not to have had a beginning, and other catches of that 
sort. They are for the most part as old as philosophy itself. 
Some were brought into new prominence by Kant, who used 
them with extreme ingenuity to set an impassable barrier to 
the legitimate operations of human reason, and leave a world 
beyond the barrier, not accessible to reason and yet not 
inaccessible altogether. In our own time an elaborate mis 
understanding of Kant has led to the waste of great powers 
on the invention of the so-called Philosophy of the Con 
ditioned, which, having barely survived its inventor and first 
promoters, may be dismissed as past criticism. 

Spinoza s meaning is clearly expressed, but in his own 
peculiar vocabulary, and it seems to call for a modern inter 
pretation. The nature of things is really continuous ; the 


further we push our inquiries the more we are compelled so to 
regard it. But in the common uses of life our imagination 
parcels it out for convenience. What we call things are per 
sistent groups of our sensations and of relations between 
them : and the conception of a thing varies according to our 
knowledge and the purpose for which the conception is re 
quired. The identity and individuality of things is nothing^, 
but the persistence and similarity of relations, and is different^ 
as we take one or another set of relations. A living body is 
the same from day to day in one sense, not the same in 

To common apprehension the common objects of sight and 
touch are unities complete in themselves and marked off from 
the rest of the world ; they are conceived as whole until they 
are visibly divided. To the scientific apprehension they are 
composite structures built up of molecules, which again are 
built up of atoms. For common purposes and many scientific 
purposes we regard the internal parts of inanimate bodies as 
at rest ; for other scientific purposes we regard them as in con 
stant motion. If we take the separate things into which we 
have thus parcelled out the world, and try to reconstruct the 
unity of the world out of them, we shall naturally fail. For 
the unity was broken up in the act of imagining each thing 
as separate, and for the purpose of dealing with it separately. 
We cannot restore the unity without undoing the dividing 
work of the imagination. 

As we divide the unity of the world materially by the con 
ception of separate things, so we also divide it formally by 
those of measurable space and time. Extension is one and 
indivisible, but we measure out space by feet and inches, or by 
fractions of a millimetre, or by diameters of the earth s orbit, 
as may serve the matter in hand. Duration is continuous, but 
we first conceive time, as Newton said, to be something con 
stantly and equably flowing, and then we take lengths of it, as 
it were, and mark them off into years, days, hours, and minutes. 


Number is involved in the possibility of things being conceived 
as separate. 1 If we perceive or conceive things and classes of 
things as persistent, we can range them, in fact or in mental 
representation, side by side. And we find that they still per 
sist, however we may alter the arrangement. As Sir James 
Stephen has excellently said, we are able to measure and count 
things because they stay to be measured and counted. We 
take matter occupying a definite part of space, and consider 
its motions and the transformations of energy therein involved 
apart from the general sum of matter and energy : in Spinoza s 
words, a modo, quo a rebus aeternis fluit, 2 separamus. 

That things do thus cohere and persist, so as to make 
measure and number possible, is a universal fact of experi 
ence ; indeed there could be no experience without it. Why 
it should be so is an impracticable and barren inquiry (except 
so far as physical research may succeed in expressing the 
more complex properties of matter in terms of less complex 
ones), and Spinoza seems to pass it over. But he also seems 
to assume that it is not of the nature of understanding as such 
to perceive things by the * aids of the imagination. Extension, 
as we have seen, is for Spinoza only one of innumerable aspects 
of existence. Intelligences knowing Substance under other 
attributes would presumably have their own aids of the 
imagination/ corresponding to our spatial measurements. 
But we also find indications that existence and knowledge 
out of time were conceived by Spinoza as possible ; in fact, 
he regards all scientific knowledge, the knowledge of things 
as necessary or sub specie aeternitatis, as independent of 
time. Everything is eternal in its necessary aspect, or as 
part of the universal order, and the knowledge of it is eternal 
also. An unexpected use is made of this conception in the 

Cf. Cogit. Met. part i. cap. 6, I : Nos autem dicimus unitaiem .... 
tantum modum cogitandi esse, quo rem ab aliis separamus, quae ipsi similes sunt, 
vel cum ipsa aliquo modo conveniunt. 

2 Res aeternae = infinite modes = in extension, Motion and Matter. See 
p. ,152, above. 


last part of the Ethics, of which there is more to be said here 
after. In this point, I think, Spinoza was again striving to 
transcend experience. The knowledge that something is true 
at all times and in all places is not a knowledge out of time : 
for the act of knowing or feeling involves change, and change 
involves time. Without risking any transcendental proposi 
tion we may safely affirm that to the human mind, or to any 
mind similarly organized in the world we live in, existence 
out of time is not intelligible. 

It is material to note that the aids of the imagination * 
are not represented by Spinoza as forms imposed by the 
mind upon things. They arise out of the relation between the 
reality of things and the finite mind which is unable to grasp 
it in imagination as an unbroken whole. Only the division and 
measuring is the work of the mind ; that which we represent 
as divided and measured is perfectly real. We do not per 
ceive things as extended in space because such is the constitu 
tion of our minds ; we perceive them as extended because our 
bodies are extended, and we measure and divide extension for 
the purpose of comparing our perceptions. Thus Spinoza s 
doctrine of time and space cannot be called an anticipation of 
Kant s^ He would never have admitted that the material 
world is extended only in respect of our perception. Kant 
assumes real existences which are unperceivable and unin 
telligible. Spinoza denies that any kind of existence is unin 
telligible, and also denies that the understanding makes exist 
ence what it is. The inner and outer aspects of the world are 
for him correlated, co-equal, and co-ordinate. Extension is 
made known to consciousness, Thought is made known in 
consciousness, but neither is derived from it. On the contrary, 
the conscious mind is a highly complex mode of thought, 
organized as the body, which is its outward aspect, is organized. 
Unorganized matter is correlated with proportionately simpler 
groupings of the ultimate elements of thought or feeling ; and 
unorganized things are, in accordance with both common 


language and the inferences of science, regarded as uncon 
scious. At the same time, thought being no less continuous 
than extension, or rather their continuity being the same, it 
is impossible to fix the point where life begins or leaves off. 
Why thought should become conscious and capable of re 
flexion when it attains a particular kind and degree of organized 
complexity is a question we have no means of answering, and 
Spinoza does not attempt to deal with it. 

We are here partly anticipating Spinoza s psychology ; 
but it may conduce to clearness to exhibit its principles in 
immediate connexion with their metaphysical foundation 
before we trace their application in the following chapter. It 
may also be permitted to anticipate the results so far as to 
observe that they show a remarkable coincidence with those 
of the modern English or empirical school. Spinoza starts 
from premisses which are in appearance dogmatic and trans 
cendental, and yet his conclusions are the same that have been 
independently reached by inquirers who acknowledged no 
source of knowledge but experience. At first sight the coin 
cidence is perplexing, but it is not really very difficult to 
explain. The psychology of the Ethics is founded in part on 
tacit assumptions of an empirical kind, in part on express 
ones which are in form universal and unqualified. But, in 
one way or another, much the same positions are assumed by 
Spinoza that are accepted by modern science and psychology 
as the basis of their work. And since a working hypothesis 
must be treated, so long as one works with it, as if it were 
absolutely true, there is no reason why the results and even 
the processes should not in great measure coincide. Thus 
we may well hold that all human knowledge is provisional, 
and yet receive as real additions to knowledge, and valid for 
practical purposes, doctrines arrived at and asserted in the 
first instance without any thought of such reservations. 



The doctrine of the Infinite Modes, one of the most difficult 
points in Spinoza s system, has been discussed piecemeal as it came 
up under one and another aspect. It may be useful to give a summary 
view of the results. 

According to the explanation here proposed, the Infinite Modes 
are as follows : 

1. In Extension. 

a. Motion, conceived after the Cartesian theory as a real 

thing and constant in quantity : quantity of motion 
being the * momentum of modern usage. 

b. The material universe or sum of extended things taken 

together as one Mode, fades totius universi. This, 
being extension modified by motion and rest, is said to be 
produced by God not immediately but through the 
operation of motion ( mediantibus his primis, Eth. i. 28, 

2. In Thought. 

a. The sum of all the psychical facts or events correspond 

ing to physical motion, intellectus absolute infinitus. 

b. There should be a sum of all particular modes of 

Thought taken as making up one Mode, to correspond to 
the * fades totius universi. But this is not specified by 
Spinoza. It might be the * idea Dei in cogitatione of 
Eth. i. 21, but there it seems not to be distinguished 
from intellectus absolute infinitus. 

We have then : 

A. Deus (causa absolute proximo). 
Extensio. Cogitatio. 

B. Res a Deo immediate pro ductae. 

Res aeternae f M tus. Intellectus absolute infinitus. 

seu modi infi- I B . Modi qui et necessario et infiniti existunt, median- 

niti (causae tibus his primis. 

proximae) , . 

Faeies totius universi. (?) Idea Dei m cogitatione. 

C. Res singular cs quaefinitae sunt. 


There would also in theory be modes answering to these in each 
of the numerically infinite Attributes to us unknown. 

This matter is fully and ably discussed by Ed. Bohmer (Spinozana 
ii., Zeitschr. jur Philosophic u. philos. Kritik, vol. 42, pp. 107-116, 
Halle 1863) ; his results agree to a considerable extent with mine, 
at which I had arrived before seeing his work. He takes Spinoza s 
facies totius universi to cover Thought as well as Extension : a 
possible but, as it seems to me, not very probable interpretation. 




Pensiti aver tu solo provvidenza, 

E 1 ciel, la terra, e Paltre cose belle, 

Le quali sprezzi tu, starsene senza? 
Sciocco, d onde se nato tu ? da quelle, 

Dunque ci e senno e Dio. Muta sentenza. 

Mai si contrasta a chi guida le stelle. CAMPANELLA. 

afire fiporois yepas a\\o n /ne ifrv 
oijre Ofo?s $ ttoivbv ael v6fj.ov ev Siity v/ii/eiV. 

CLEANTHES, Hymn to Zeus. 

OUR experience manifests to us a series of events in time. 
But we no sooner begin to reflect upon it than we find that 
the series is not single but double. We commonly speak of 
time and space as if they were on exactly the same footing ; 
yet there is a distinction of some importance. Whatever 
happens in space can be perceived by several observers at 
once, so far as the conditions admit of their being conveniently 
placed. On the other hand, every one of us is aware of an 
immense number of events which can be perceived by nobody 
but himself, namely, his own thoughts and feelings. When I 
move my hand to write on this paper the motion can be seen 
by another person in the room full as well as by myself. The 
event is as much a part of his experience as of mine. But 
my will and sensations that accompany the act belong to me 
and to my experience alone. My companion can see my fingers 
on the pen, but he cannot feel the pressure which the pen 
exerts on them ; he can follow the movements, but not the 
desires which direct them. He can form a notion of my feel- 


ings only by inference from what his own feelings have been 
in similar circumstances; immediate experience of them is 
wholly beyond his reach. 

If we desire to use the word unknowable, we may find a 
harmless use for it by saying that the feelings of any one 
mind are in this sense unknowable for every other mind. 

Each of us has a world of inner experience reserved to 
himself alone, and a world of outer experience which he can 
share with other men. What is known by inward experience 
we call mind, or mental ; what is known by outward experience 
is named matter, or material. Modern philosophers have 
stated the distinction in another form by the use of the terms 
Subject and Object. This has the advantage of fixing the 
attention upon the individual and incommunicable character 
of the mind s experience. The adjective derived from Subject, 
when taken in this technical sense, has passed into common 
use as an epithet for feelings or opinions resting on personal 
grounds, as distinguished from such as are due to causes found 
to operate in a similar way on great numbers of men under 
similar conditions. Its correlated term objective is not so familiar 
in England, but is freely used by German writers to denote 
absence of prejudice and distortion, faithfulness in reproduc 
tion, and the like. In this meaning it almost comes round to 
the earlier usage, where, as we have already seen in Spinoza s 
treatise on Method, a true idea is said to repeat objectively 
the reality of the thing signified. Whether the terms have 
really done much good in philosophy is, I think, an open 
question. They have certainly led to much inelegance of 
language and some confusion of thought. 

I have assumed that the division of Subject and Object is 
identical with that of Mind and Matter ; but it may be 
needful to show cause for this, though it is in truth rather a 
matter of verbal definition than anything else. Let it be 
supposed that the two divisions do not coincide. Then 
Matter can be part of the Subject, or Mind part of the Object. 


The former is obviously impossible : for Matter, whatever it 
may be, is not part of my feeling. It is assumed to exist 
expressly as something outside my feeling. My own body 
and organs of sense belong to the objective world no less than 
any other bodies. Nor does it fare any better with the latter 
alternative. It is true I can reflect upon my own feelings, 
but that will not make them something outside me. Like 
wise I can think of other persons and their feelings ; but that 
will not make their minds objects to me : for I think of their 
minds as trains of consciousness and feeling analogous to my 
own, but inaccessible to my direct knowledge. They are re 
presented, in fact, as imaginary states of my own mind which 
it might assume under those other conditions which are 
actually present in the case of the other persons I think of. 
Therefore no part of Mind can be part of the Object. Thus 
we see that the division of individual experience by the 
conceptions of subject and object is the same which was 
applied to existence by the conceptions of mind and matter. 
Now this reasoning tends to show that the divisions are in 
themselves unsatisfactory. And we need not be surprised at 
it, having seen in the last chapter the metaphysical grounds 
for holding the ultimate distinction between mind and matter 
to be illusory. 

The distinction in human experience is however quite 
real ; and mankind, taking their experience as the measure of 
existence, have conceived the world of mind and the world of 
matter as two sharply defined regions set over against one 
another. But the same experience which suggested the divi 
sion also shows us a constant connexion. The feelings which 
I cannot show to my fellow-man in any but a symbolic and 
representative manner, namely, by signs that he can interpret 
in terms of his own feelings, are paired with outward events 
which are parcel of our common experience. The gulf between 
the two worlds is bridged. How the bridge is possible is a 
problem which has exercised philosophers of all ages ; and all 


their endeavours have failed so long as they have not perceived 
that the gulf itself is the creature of our own thought. It is 
an irrational and hopeless task to inquire how mind acts upon 
matter, or matter upon mind. We are trying to find a rela 
tion between things which have no common measure. The 
strength of an emotion cannot be expressed in foot-pounds, 
nor will our sensations of warmth help us to fix the mechanical 
equivalent of heat. Either we must give up the problem as a 
mystery, or we must invent another mystery to explain it, or 
we must say plainly that the common way of stating it is 
wrong, and that the distinction on which it is founded is 
wrong also. 

The Cartesian school saw the difficulty, but still held to 
the conception of mind and matter as entities or substances 
distinct in themselves. The notion of mutual action was very 
nearly, but not quite, rejected by Descartes. He supposed a 
communication by means of the animal spirits, the soul 
being able to change the direction though not the amount 
of their motion. His followers went further, and devised 
the theory of Occasional Causes, first propounded in its 
completeness by Arnold Geulinx. The correspondence of 
body and mind was kept up at every instant by a special 
operation of God s power. Material fire could have no 
effect of itself on the immaterial mind, but was the occasion 
of God s producing in the mind the sensations of light 
and heat. This was nothing else than postulating a per 
petual miracle ; and the Cartesians not only admitted as 
much, but made it a reason for recommending the opinion. 
Leibnitz put forward a simpler but not less arbitrary supposi 
tion.. His famous doctrine of Pre-established Harmony, as 
applied to this particular question, likens mind and matter to 
two clocks constructed with absolute perfection of mechanism 
and set going at the same rate, so that, while each goes 
independently of the other, they keep exact time together. 
The metaphor of the two clocks is also found in Cartesian 


literature ; l and we might perhaps liken the communication 
through the animal spirits which is admitted in the earlier 
Cartesian theory to an electrical connexion such as is now 
sometimes used to regulate a distant clock by a standard 

Spinoza s psychology takes the same view of the facts ; 
but instead of seeking an artificial explanation for the corre 
spondence of two such different things as body and mind, he 
boldly says that they are the same thing, and differ only as 
aspects. Their parallelism and mutual independence is thus 
not a mystery but an elementary fact. To ask why mind 
should correspond with matter is like asking why the con 
vexity of a curve should answer to the concavity. Let us 
now proceed to consider Spinoza s work more in detail, giving 
to the reader who may not be acquainted with it the warning 
that the second part of the Ethics is very difficult in form, 
and that many of the propositions become clear only by 
repeated consideration. The preliminaries however are less 
formidable in appearance than those of the first part, and we 
need not dwell much upon them. The specific assumptions as 
to the nature of man are simple appeals to common experience. 2 
Man thinks ; we are aware of a particular body that is, 
each man is aware of his own body as affected in many 
ways ; we are not aware, nor have we perceptions, of any 
individual things besides bodies and modes of thought. 

1 * Sicut duobus horologiis rite inter se et ad solis cursum quadratis propter 
meram dependentiam qua utrumque ab eadem arte et simili industria constitutum 
est. Editor s note to Geulinx s posthumous Ethics (ap. Bouillier, Hist, de la 
Philosophic Cartesienne, i. 305, 3rd ed.). With Leibnitz there is a universal 
harmony between the independent activities of the infinite monads or simple sub 
stances which make up the sentient universe. Of this harmony the correspon 
dence between the soul and the bodily organism is a particular case : Monadologie, 
78-81. Ce sy steme fait que les corps agissent comme si (par impossible) il 
n y avoit point d ames, et que les ames Pgissent comme s il n y avoit point de 
corps, et que tous deux agissent comme si 1 un influoit sur 1 autre. Leibnitz, like 
Spinoza, calls the mind a spiritual automaton. (Theodic. 403, and elsewhere.) 

2 Spinoza himself attaches some importance to this : < Omnia ilia quae sumpsi 
postulata vix quicquam continent quod non constet experientia de qua nobis non 
licet dubitare. Prop. 17, Schol. 

Some further postulates are introduced at a later stage (after 
Prop. 1 3) concerning the composite nature of the human frame 
and the component parts themselves, and its powers of acting 
on and receiving impressions from external bodies. 

The human mind, or man as a thinking being, is a mode 
of thought, and part of the infinite intellect of God (Prop. 1 1, 
Coroll.). As such it must have its correlate or object in 
extension ; for the same reality of Substance is expressed in 
extension as in thought. 1 This object is nothing else than 
the human body, the existence of which is made known to us 
by our experience of its affections (Prop. 13). At this point 
occurs a note of great importance, the substance of which is 
best given in Spinoza s own words : 

1 Hence we understand, not only that the human mind is united 
to the body, but what is to be understood by this union. But no 
one can understand this adequately or distinctly unless he first has 
adequate knowledge of the nature of our body. For the propositions 
hitherto established are very general, and apply no more to man 
than to all other individual things ; which, indeed are all endowed 
with mind, frniurh in various decrees. For of every thing soever 
there is necessarily in God an idea, whereof God is the cause, in 
like manner as *>"> is an ide?. of thg Imman body : and thus what 
ever we have said of fo* ^ pa 9 f the human body must also be said 
~77k~^o ^ fY Pry<-v.m ff pfap At the same time we cannot deny 
that ideas differ among themselves as their objects do (the relations 
among modes of thought are parallel to those among the correspond 
ing modes of extension) and that one is more excellent than 
another, and comprehends more reality ; and therefore in order 
to determine wherein the human mind differs from others, and 
how it excels them, it is needful for us to know the nature of its 
object, that is, the human body. This however I cannot here 
explain, nor is it necessary for the purpose of my demonstration. 
But this much I will generally say,Jtriat the more any body surpasses 
others in its fitness for manifold actions or impressions, the more 
doth its mind surpass others in capacity for manifold perceptions ; 

1 Prop. T. What becomes of the corresponding modes of the other Attributes ? 
This difficulty, which is insoluble on Spinoza s principle of equal co-ordination, 
has already been discussed in the last chapter. 


and the more the actions of a given body depend upon itself alone, 
and the less other bodies concur with it in its actions, the more 
capable is its mind of distinct understanding../ Hence we can obtain 
knowledge of the excellence of one mind above others ; and more 
over see why we have but a very confused knowledge of our own 
body, and several other matters which I shall in the sequel deduce 
from these principles. 

There could not be a more distinct or positive declaration 
of the necessity that psychology, if it is to be a serious branch 
of scientific inquiry, should go hand in hand with physio 
logy, and verify its results, as far as possible, by physiological 
observation. Persons who describe Spinoza as a mere dog 
matic metaphysician have obviously never read as far as this 
Scholium. But to proceed to Spinoza s consequences. One 
of the first is that * the idea constituting the human mind, as 
it is in itself, is not simple, but compounded of very many 
ideas/^ For the human mind is the idea, or correlate in 
thought, of an extended body which is known to be very 
complex ; and every part of the body must have its corre 
sponding idea ; so that the mind is composed of the ideas of 
"trie manifold parts that make up the body. In other words, 
_the mind is complex precisely as the body is complex. Here 
at all events there is no metaphysical assumption in the 
popular sense of the term ; nothing about a soul, or an JEgo^ 
or a simple substance, or an inward assurance of personality. 
We must complain of Spinoza, if we complain of him at all, 
for not being metaphysical enough. From this we are led 
on to the association of ideas, a topic in which Spinoza has 
anticipated not only the propositions laid down by modern 
psychologists, but the modern manner of handling them. 

/The perception of an external object is the state of mind 
corresponding to the modification of the bodily organism 
produced by that object. \So long as that modification lasts, 
so long will the corresponding idea ; in other words, the 
external body will be perceived or thought of as present. 

o 2 


[""And this will be repeated if the parts of the organism con 
cerned are again placed in the same disposition, whether by 
the presence of the same object or J3j/__any other accident. 
Hence we may imagine things as present when they are not. 
Here likewise it is observed that our notion of an external 
body is a function of our own organism, and has more to do 
with the nature of our own body than with that of the external 
one. Thus we understand what is the difference between 
that idea of Peter which constitutes the reality of Peter s own 
mind, and the idea of Peter which is in another man, say in 
Paul. For the former directly answers to (explicat) the 
reality of Peter s own body, and does not imply existence 
except while Peter exists ; the latter indicates rather the dis 
position of Paul s body than the nature of Peter, and therefore 
while that disposition lasts Paul s mind, though Peter may 
not exist, will yet regard him as present to it. Spinoza is 
fully conscious in this place of his double use of the over 
worked term idea ; yet elsewhere, as we pointed out in a 
former chapter, he appears to mix up the two meanings ; and in 
a later proposition (Part 2, Pr. 32) the verbal confusion reaches 
its climax. <>TrTe proposition amounts to saying that every 
mental state is in one sense true, inasmuch as it really exists. 
But to return to the passage immediately before us:Jt j_s_ 
further noted that imagination is in itself not capable of error. 
If the mind imagines a non-existent thing a.s present, but also 
knows it not to exist, tHere is nq error, but .a pure activity of 
the imaginative power. 1 Again, f jf the human body has once 
been affected at the same time by two or more bodies, then when 
the mind afterwards imagines any one of them, it will there 
upon remember the others also. >2 This is the ground of 
memory and association. Memory is defined as An associa 
tion (concatenatio) of ideas involving the nature of things 4 
outside the human body, which arises in the mind according 

V Prop. 17, 8cho \ - Prop. 18. 


^p the order_and association of the affections of the human 

1 And hence we further understand why the mind should upon the 
thought of one thing fall into the thought of another thing which hath 
no likeness with the first. As for example, from thinking upon the word 
pomum a Roman will fall to thinking upon the fruit apple, which hath 
no likeness to that articulate sound, nor anything common with it, 
save that the man s body has often been affected by these two ; that 
is, that the man often heard the word pomum when he saw the fruit 
itself ; and thus every man will fall from one thought into another, as 
the habit of each has ordered the images of things in his body. A 
soldier when he sees the footprints of a horse in sand will thereupon 
fall to thinking of a horseman, and thence into thoughts of warfare 
and the like. But a farmer will fall from thinking of the horse to 
thinking of ploughs, fields, and the like \ and thus willjeyery man 
fall into this or that course of thought, as he has~B"een accustomed to 
join_a.nd_associate the ideas of things in this or that manner/ 

This contains, though only in outline, all the essentials of 
the modern doctrine on the subject. 

The nature and limitations of human knowledge are then 
further discussed on the same psychological method. ,We 
Xjcnow our own bodies only through our ideas of the affections 
wherewith the body is affected ; and we also have a reflective ! 
knowledge of these ideas, and this is thepnly knowledge which 
the mind has of itself. 1 Eye_n in the most abstruse act of re- 1 
flexion the mental operation is accompanied by the material 
series of changes in the organism ; we cannot by any effort 
whatever transcend the organic conditions of thought, for they 
are the other side of thought itself. _A11 pur perceptions of 
external things consist in perceptions of our own body as 
modified by them ; but this does not give us accurate know 
ledge of the constitution either of our own bodies or of the objects 

affecting them. For the things we actually perceive, whether 

due to the internal functions of our organism or to impressions 

1 Eth. ii. 19-23. As to Spinoza s peculiar way of stating the doctrine of 
4 idea ideae, cf. p. 133 above. 


on it Irom without, are but limited .sarts.of..extremely complex 
physical events extending far beyond our sentient prgans. 
And on the whole, the human mind, whenever it jperjaeiyes 
things after the common order of nature, has not an adequate 
knowledge either of itself or of its own body, or of external 
bodies^ut only a confused and fragmentary ojie. ^The mind 
is said to perceive things after the common order of nature 
when its thoughts are determined by external circumstances, 
which with regard to the mind may be called accidental, and 
not by its own operation of reasoning.) 

Hence we have but a confused notion of the duration 
either of our own body or of external things, for this depends 
on the common order of nature ; and thus we regard all 
particular things as contingent and ^perishable ; for to call a 
thing contingent and perishable is as much as to say that we 
have no adequate knowledge of its duration. Error in general 
is explained as the privation of knowledge which accompanies 
inadequate or confused ideas. | 

For example, men are mistaken in their opinion of their own 
freedom ; which opinion consisteth only in this, that they are con 
scious of their own actions, and ignorant of the causes whereby they 
are determined. So that their idea of freedom is nothing else than 
their not knowing any cause of their actions. For when they say 
that human actions depend on the will, these are words for which 
they have no idea to answer them. What the will is, or how it 
moves the body, thereof they all know nothing ; the pretensions of 
those who, feigning to know somewhat, devise houses and dwelling- 
places for the soul, are either ludicrous or disgusting. l 

Again, our visual impression of the sun s apparent distance 
is not altered by knowledge of the real distance. The error 
of the common sort is not in the visual impression itself, but 
in the ignorance that accompanies it. We imagine the sun 
as near us, not because we know not its true distance, but 
because the present affection of our body involves the nature 

1 Prop. 35, Schol. 


of the sun only in so far as the same body is thereby affected/ 
It is to be observed that imagination here stands for the 
acquired interpretations of sensation which in ordinary adult 
perceptions are not distinguished from the sensation itself, 
but which really depend on the representation of many sensa 
tions experienced in the past and their various associations and 
consequences. The erroneous ideas in a finite mind, however 
are in themselves as necessary as the true ones, being part of 
the general order of nature. On the other hand there are 
ideas in the human mind which are necessarily adequate, 
namely ideas of those elements which are common to all 
perceptions, or, taking it from the objective side, to the human 
body and all bodies affecting it. * Hence it follows that a 
mind will be fitted to perceive more things, and to perceive 
them adequately, as its body has more in common with other 
bodies : in other words, the power of gaining knowledge from 
the outer world depends on the variety of the organs of sen 
sation, and their adaptation to the physical influences by 
which they can be affected ; a conclusion which must be 
admitted as very just, whatever we may think of Spinoza s 
way of demonstrating it. In modern language, his position 
amounts to the now familiar statement that sensation is a 
function of the organism as affected by some external body. 
But the condition of the affected organism does not necessarily 
resemble the condition of the affected body, except so far as 
they are both material systems in which motion and trans 
ferences of energy are going on. Thus neither our sensations 
nor the physical events in the organism immediately correlated 
with them can be said in any proper sense to resemble the 
external objects and events indicated by them. Spinoza s 
argument seems to imply further that all men have an 
adequate idea of matter and motion ; for these are on his 
physical principles the only constituents common to all bodies. 
This appears to be another consequence of the ambiguous use 
of the word idea. That which is feeling in itself, or to the 


inward sense, would be to the outward sense, if it were 
accessible, a series of motions in a material organism. And 
motion, as such, is everywhere the same, whether occurring in 
the organism or outside it. But this carries us no farther as to 
the correctness of the information we derive from our senses 
concerning the outer world, much less of the conceptions of 
matter and motion which we may form by reflexion on our 
experience. Because my idea, in the general sense of mental 
state, corresponds exactly to a series of physical events in my 
brain, it follows riot that I shall frame an adequate idea, in 
the sense of a consciously held conception, when I try to 
think what matter and motion are. All that I can directly 
know is a state of my own feeling. It is only through a long 
course of education and experiment that I can interpret any 
such state in terms of other people s possible feelings, or, in 
other words, proceed from it to a statement about the 
accompanying condition of my own organs or the dispositions 
of external bodies determining that condition. 

Spinoza, however, does not here explain what are the 
notions common to all men, or the secondary maxims de- 
ducible from them. He refers us for all this to another 
treatise, probably the unfinished work on the Amendment of 
the Understanding, of which an account has already been 
given, and he goes on to his explanation of universals. 1 The 
limited resources of our organism permit us to form only a 
limited number of images. There is a point beyond which 
our senses become incapable of perceiving minute differences ; 
the various organs of the human body, with all its delicacy of 
adaptation, are but rough instruments to observe the bound 
less variety of nature withal. We may observe in passing 
that Spinoza s statement, which is here partly modernized in 
form, is confirmed to the full by the results of modern phy 
siology. The overlapping and confusion of many similar 
perceptions and the representations of them beget our generic 

1 Prop. 40, Schol. 2, 


or so-called universal notions. We have seen, for example, 
a great number of human beings in the course of life, and 
cannot remember all the differences of stature, complexion, 
features, and other matters. Every one carries a strong 
though not very distinct impression of the points in which 
all or most of the several perceptions have agreed, and the 
aggregate of these is called by the generic name of man. 
Thus one man s general ideas are not exactly like another s ; 
they depend in each case on the individual s aptitude for 
perceiving and remembering this or that common feature in a 
multitude of objects. The crystallographer s idea of diamond 
is different from the chemist s, and that again from the 
jeweller s. 

1 Those who have often admired the stature of men understand by 
the name of man an animal of upright stature ; while those who are 
accustomed to consider some other attribute will form some other 
general imagination of men, as, that man is an animal capable of 
laughter, two-legged, without feathers, or rational; and thus in other 
cases every one will form universal images of things after the habit of 
his body. Wherefore it is no wonder that so many controversies 
have arisen among philosophers, who have been minded to explain 
things as they are in nature by mere images of things. l 

This leads to a classification of knowledge in three de 
grees. The first is opinion or imagination, proceeding from 
one s own confused experience or the report of others. In this 
class are now included the first and second kinds of know 
ledge which we met with in the treatise on the Amendment 
of the Understanding (p. 126 above). 

The second or reasonable kind is obtained by the posses 
sion of common notions (which are necessarily adequate) and 
adequate ideas of particular properties of things. 

The third, or intuitive kind, proceeds from an ade 
quate idea of the absolute nature of some attribute of God 

1 Prop. 40, Schol. i. Compare Mr. F. Gallon s recent paper on Generic 
Images, Nineteenth Century, July 1879. 


to an adequate knowledge of the nature of things. Our 
immediate perception that 6 is to 3 as 2 to I is given as an 
instance of it ; but the formidable language of the general 
statement is not otherwise explained. 

Knowledge of the first kind is precarious ; the second and 
third kinds are certain, and are our only means of distinguish 
ing truth from error. Then comes the proposition as to the 
ultimate test of truth which we have cited in a foregoing 
chapter (p. 129). 

The rest of the second Part of the Ethics is mainly devoted 
to working out the theory of determinism. It is of the nature of 
reason to consider things not as contingent, but as necessary: 1 
it is the work of the imagination to regard them as contingent, 
and our notion of contingency arises from the confusion of many 
associations, in somewhat the same way that general notions 
arise from the confused impression of many particular 
experiences. Let a child on a given day see Peter in the 
morning, Paul at noon, and Simon in the evening ; then at 
the beginning of the next day he will expect the day to run 
its course, and will also expect, if nothing occurs to counteract 
it, the sight of Peter, Paul, and Simon to be repeated in the 
same order ; and the expectation will be strengthened by 
repetition of the experience. But if one evening James comes 
instead of Simon, the next morning s expectations of evening 
will bring with it conflicting images of Simon and James. 

( For the boy is assumed to have seen at eventide only one or 
the other of them, not both together. With the coming eventide he 
will imagine now the one, now the other ; that is, he will imagine 
neither of them as certainly, but both as contingently about to be 
present. Moreover the wavering of the imagination will be the same 
if it is an imagination of things which we consider in the same 
manner with reference to time past or present, and accordingly we 
may equally regard things as contingent, whether they be referred to a 
time present, past, or future. 

1 Prop. 44. 


This passage suggests that determinists may turn the tables 
on the maintainers of free-will in its popular sense of cause 
less choice by their own favourite device of an appeal to the 
common use of language. It is said that determinism reduces 
to an absurdity our ordinary feelings and forms of speech with 
regard to future events : but it is overlooked that we habitually 
apply the very same feelings or forms of speech to events 
which at the time are unquestionably determined. Nay, we may 
believe or positively know that they are determined, so long 
as we do not know which of the conceivable determinations 
is the one that has occurred. While we await the disclosure 
of a parliamentary division list, the result of an examination, 
the return of casualties in an action, the account of a friend s 
arrival in a distant country, or a hundred other things no less 
easily called to mind, our emotions of curiosity, hope, and fear 
are but little allayed by the thought that the matter itself is 
already decided ; for the source of those emotions is not in 
the facts but in our ignorance of them, and we wonder, 
speculate, and form provisional imaginations of what we shall 
do in this or that event, just as if the event were still in the 
future. In familiar language we do not hesitate to couple 
hope or fear with the present and even the past tense. I 
hope you have enjoyed yourself ; I fear you have got wet : 
it were mere pedantry to replace these by more accurate 
phrases. Again, the historian who investigates the actions 
and motives of men in the transactions of a past made obscure 
by distance, by the conflict of evidence, by the flattering or 
violence of partisans, or by the machinations of wrongdoers, is 
constantly driven to deal in surmise, contingency, and conjec 
ture. Probably, he will say, this was the course of events ; this 
was perhaps the reason for such or such a singular action ; 
possibly this commonly received account is true, notwith 
standing the difficulties attaching to it ; now and then he will 
confess (unless he is a historian of the confident sort, who has 
a complete explanation for everything) that with his existing 


means of information he can only suspend his judgment. 
All statements of this kind are statements about our imperfect 
~ x knowledge of matters which in truth have been settled once 
for all. The fact that events happened somehow and are 
past we know ; the manner of it we do not know. Yet we 
constantly speak of them as uncertain, finding it useful and 
indeed necessary to do so. We say, for example, that 
Alcibiades was possibly concerned in the mutilation of the 
Hermae, though it is most certain that either he was or he 
was not. 

There does not appear to be anything in the nature of 
reason or of language that should compel one to suppose the 
notion of contingency as regards future events to be anything 
else than what it undoubtedly is as regards past and present 
events ; that is to say, a fiction imposed on us by our limited 
means of knowledge. We hope and fear, not because the 
events are uncertain, but because we are uncertain ; nor would 
a general belief that future events are as certain as past ones, 
at least if intelligently held, alter the expectations or conduct 
of mankind for any practical purpose. Assuredly it does not 
lead to the indifference of fatalism : for a little consideration 
will show that fatalism consists, not in believing all events to 
be the definite results of definite conditions, but in holding 
that the course of events is overruled by an arbitrary power 
which so constantly baffles all man s forethought as to make 
it not worth while to take thought for the future. Philoso- 
<- phical determinism is the opposite of this. The jdetomimst 
\ holds, in accordance with common experience, that the de- 
j 1 iberate action of men is among the conditions that shape the 

i ***** "* ***** a ^"^ n--! _ - 

V course of events, and is often the most important condition. 

If particular men or societies are foolish enough to think that 

their own acts or omissions count for nothing, that is a con- 

^dition too, and its results will be greatly to their disadvantage. 

[ Determinism, in short, if only one applies it thoroughly, leaves 
all the common uses of life exactly where they were. For my 


own part, I hold that the choice I exercise in writing these 
lines is determined and in nowise arbitrary. But the sense 
of power involved in the conscious exercise of choice is none 
the less pleasurable for that. The schoolboy who runs, leaps, 
or swims knows mighty little of the complex mechanism 
that governs every action of his body. For all that English 
schoolboys could learn from their appointed teachers till 
within a few years past, he might fancy that his will acted 
immediately on his hands and feet. The student of riper 
years who seeks recreation in active exercise well knows that 
this is not so. He is aware that he cannot lift his foot from 
the ground, or adjust the balance of his oar, or shift the grasp of 
his ice-axe, without calling into play an apparatus exceeding in 
its intricate variety the staff and transport of a modern army. 
He knows that innumerable parts must work harmoniously 
together in their several functions to produce the desired 
motion. Yet the physical delight of putting forth strength 
or skill is no less in the man than in the boy. This, as 
regards the body, is matter of common observation. I know 
not why it should be otherwise in the mind. But perhaps a 
much shorter answer should sufficiently meet the common 
objection that determinism robs life of its interest ; for it is 
the experience of a reasonable number of persons who hold 
the doctrine, and who are not less competent than other men 
to bear witness to their own feelings, that it does nothing of 
the sort. In any case, it is time to return to Spinoza s own 

g~~The mind, he says, is a particular and determined mode 
of thought, and as such can have no absolute or uncon 
ditioned power of volition. Its state at a given moment, to 
whatever so-called faculty we may refer it, is the effect of 
some definite cause, which itself is the effect of a preceding 
cause, and so on without end. 1 The supposed faculties of 
the mind, and thejviJi. among them, are abstract terms having 

1 Eth. ii. 48. 


a merely verbal existence.] Understanding and will have the 
same relation to this and that idea, or this and that volition, 
as lapideity to this and that stone, or man to Peter and Paul. 
Spinoza does not mean to say that the desire which begets 
will is not a real and individual fact. ffTow he treats desire 
we shall see later ; here he explains mat he distinguishes 
will from desire, and regards it as, in the abstract, a faculty, 
or, in the concrete, an act of jiffirmation or negation, or, as we 
should now say, of judgment, j This appears to a modern 
reader to be a needless complication of his case. It is 
coupled with the doctrine that every idea involves a judg 
ment, 1 which, if we take idea in Spinoza s larger sense as in 
cluding all states of consciousness, is a paradox, and if we 
take idea in the restricted sense of conception, still remains 
difficult of digestion. Spinoza gives the affirmation that the 
angles of a triangle are together equal to two right angles as 
an example of a volition. Most people would deny that 
there is any volition concerned in such a judgment. What is 
implied in Spinoza s choice of such an example is that in his 
view the mind is quite as active in the formation of a neces 
sary inference as in fixing on one conclusion or course of 
action out of several which may appear plausible. And who 
ever admits this cannot well refuse the corollary thatj^wiU^ 
and understanding are one and the same. In like manner 
perception is inseparable from judgment : to perceive a winged 
horse is to affirm that a horse has wings.jSo long as a winged 
horse or anything else is present to the imagination, and no 
other perception is present which contradicts its reality, we 
shall believe in the real existence of the object. This is the 
common experience of dreams, when the imagination is active 
and unchecked. And thus, if the objection is made that will 
differs in nature from understanding, because we have it in our 
free choice to suspend our judgment whether we shall or shall 
not assent to a given perception as corresponding to reality, 
1 Prop. 49, and "Schol. 


the answer is that jvhat we call suapftnsft_nfjnH smgn f ii j jlj]tllr 

other words, it is itself a perception 

lect All this, it must be confessed, is a rather barren dis 
cussion, and at this day serves chiefly to show with what 
poverty of language, both in extent and in definition, 
psychology had to labour in Spinoza s time. But the 
manner in which he explains the strength of the common 
notions as to the relation of mind and body, of which the 
popular doctrine of free-will is really parcel, is of lasting 
interest. It occurs in a later place, 1 but it will be convenient 
to translate part of it here. After giving as a separate pro 
position the doctrine that the body can give rise to no 
operation of thought in the mind, nor the mind to any 
phenomenon of motion or otherwise in the body, he proceeds 
to the difficulties of common sense on the subject : 

I scarce believe, until I shall have assured myself of it by ex 
perience, that men can be brought to consider this matter impartially : 
so firmly are they persuaded that tis from the mere decree of the 
mind that their bodies now move, now are at rest, and perform much 
else that flows from the pure will and faculty of invention in the mind. 
Certainly no man hath yet determined what are the powers of the 
body : I mean that none has yet learnt from experience what the 
body may perform by mere laws of nature, considering it only as a 
material thing, and what it cannot do without the mind s determina 
tion of it. For nobody has known as yet the frame of the body so 
thoroughly as to explain all its operations ; not to say that in brutes 
much is noted which doth far surpass human cunning, and that men 
walking in their sleep often perform, so sleeping, that which they 
would never dare waking ; which is proof enough that the body may, 
merely by the laws of its own constitution, do much that its own 
mind is amazed at. Again, there is none can tell how and in what 
manner the mind moves the body, what measure of motion it can 
impart to it, or with what velocity. 

To say, therefore, that a particular action of the body is 
caused by the mind is only a grudging confession of ignorance 

1 JSt/i. iii, 2, Schol. 


as to its real cause. As for the appeal to common experience, 
it cuts both ways. If the body is helpless without the mind, 
so is the mind subject to be disabled by sleep, and otherwise 
limited in its operation by bodily conditions. If it be said 
that the existence of material works of art, such as houses, 
pictures, and statues, is inexplicable on the supposition that 
the human body is governed only by the physical laws of 
its constitution, and that the body could never perform such 
feats if it were not guided by the mind ; the answer is, as 
before, that the objector knows not what the powers of the 
body really are. Moreover, the human body itself is infi 
nitely more artificial than any work of human art. Men say 
they have experience that it is in the absolute power of the 
mind either to speak or to keep silence, and the like ; to 
which Spinoza replies that if it were indeed as much in 
man s power to be silent as to speak, the world would be 
much happier. The argument is a little more fully illustrated 
in a letter (Ep. 62), which is partly identical with the passage 
in hand. 

I call a thing free if it exists and acts merely from the necessary 
laws of its own nature, but constrained if it is determined by some 
thing else to exist and act in a certain determinate way. Thus God 
exists necessarily, and yet freely, because he exists by the necessity of 
his own nature alone. So God freely understands himself and every, 
thing else, because it follows solely from the necessity of his own 
nature that he must understand everything. You see then that I 
make freedom consist not in a free decision of the will, but in free 
necessity. . . . 

* Imagine, if you can. that a stone, while its motion continues, is 
conscious, and knows that so far as it can it endeavours to persist in 
its motion. This stone, since it is conscious only of its own endeavour 
and deeply interested therein (minime indtfferens\ will believe that it 
is perfectly free and continues in motion for no other reason than 
that it so wills. Now such is this freedom of man s will which every 
one boasts of possessing, and which consists only in this, that men 
are aware of their own desires and ignorant of the causes by which 
those desires are determined. So an infant thinks his appetite for 


milk is free ; so a child in anger thinks his will is for revenge, in fear 
that it is for flight. Again, a drunkard thinks he speaks of his free 
will things which, when sober, he would fain not have spoken. 

That which we call choice in the mind is in truth exactly 
correlated, or rather identical, with some determined physical 
event in the body. Again, it must be conceded that our 
freedom of action depends on memory ; we must remember 
a particular word, for example, before we can will to speak or 
not to speak it ; and memory is not subject to the will. At 
best, therefore, the alleged power of volition can be exercised 
only within the limits fixed by the range of memory. \ 

But when we dream of speaking, we believe ourselves to speak 
from a free decision of the mind, and yet we speak not, or if we do, 
it is by an independent motion of the body. We dream, again, of 
doing by the like decision sundry things which as waking men we 
dare not ; and hereon I would fain know if there be in the mind two 
sorts of decisions, the one merely fantastic and the other truly free. 
But if we choose not to go that length in folly, it must needs be 
allowed that this decision of the mind which is believed to be free 
is not in truth distinguishable from the imagination or memory pre 
ceding it, and is nothing else than that affirmation which an idea, in 
somuch as it is an idea, doth of necessity include. So that these / 
decisions of the mind arise therein by the same necessity as its ideas/ 
of really existing things. And they who believe themselves to speakn 
or keep silence or do aught else by the free decision of their minds/ 
are men dreaming with their eyes open. 

So ends this characteristic and uncompromising expo 
sition, which is too clear to need much commentary. Spinoza 
seems to assume rather confidently that no advocate of 
free-will would go so far as to maintain that there is a real 
operation of that excellent faculty in dreaming. As a matter 
of pure psychological argument, it is not easy to see what 
should prevent it. But the doctrine of free-will is never, so 
far as I know, maintained on a purely scientific footing : it is 
always rested, at least in great part, on the supposed necessity 



of having it as a foundation of moral responsibility. There 
fore a disputant who, defending free-will on the usual grounds, 
should assert that free-will is really exercised in dreams, 
would find himself in an awkward position. For he must 
admit either that free-will and moral responsibility are not 
inseparable, or that we are morally responsible for all the 
crimes and follies which the best and wisest of us, as common 
experience abundantly shows, are liable to commit in our 
dreams. The first alternative deprives the volitionist of his 
principal interest in his cause ; the second is too repugnant 
to common sense to be entertained, though something not 
unlike it was held by St. Augustine. 

Let us return to the conclusion of the Second Part of the 
Ethics/ where Spinoza sets forth the advantages of the phil 
osophical doctrine of necessity. It gives a marked foretaste 
of the manner in which the practical side of his teaching 
coincides with that of the Stoics. The attainment of happi 
ness by man through realizing his intimate union with the 
I whole nature of things ; the distinction between things in our 
|f power and things not in our power ; the avoidance of all dis 
turbing passions, and the performance of social duties from 
rational desire for the common good : all these points occur 
in the paragraph I shall now translate, and all are not only 
present but conspicuous in the Stoic theory of morals. 
Spinoza s words are as follows : 

It remains to show how much is gained for the uses of life by the 
knowledge of this doctrine, which we shall easily perceive from these 

First, it teaches us that we act only by the decree of God, and are 
partakers of the .divine nature, and that in proportion as we are more 
perfect in our actions and more advanced in the understanding of 
God. Wherefore this doctrine, besides that it begets an absolute 
content in the mind, excels also in this, that it teaches us wherein our 
highest happiness or blessedness doth consist ; that is, in the know 
ledge of God only, which leadeth us to do only such, things as be 
commended by love and duty. Hence we" clearlyjmderstand how 


far they go astray from a right judgment of virtue who look to be 
illustrated by God with extreme rewards for virtue and perfect actions, 
as for some extreme hardship of service ; as if virtue and the service 
of God were not themselves very happiness and the extreme height 
of freedom. 

Secondly, it teaches us how to carry ourselves as concerning the 
gifts of fortune or things which are not in our power, I mean such 
things as depend not on our own nature ; that is, that we should with 
an equal mind await and bear either countenance of fortune, seeing 
that all things follow from the eternal ordinance of God with the 
same necessity whereby it follows from the nature of a triangle that 
its three angles are equal to two right angles. 

1 Thirdly, this doctrine is good for civil conversation, insomuch as 
it teaches us to hold no man in hatred, contempt, or derision, and 
not to be angered or envious at any one. Further, because it teaches 
that every man should be content with his own and helpful to his neigh 
bour ; not from womanish pity, favour, or superstition, but merely at 
the bidding of reason, according to the time and matter, as I shall 
show in the third part. 1 

Lastly, this doctrine is of no small profit for the commonwealth 
in that it shows how citizens are to be governed and led, that is, not 
to make them do service, but to cause them to do freely whatsoever 
is best. And herewith I have finished that of which I purposed to 
treat in this Scholium, and so I make an end of this our second part ; 
conceiving that therein I have explained the nature and qualities of 
the human mind at sufficient length, and as clearly as the difficulty of 
the thing admits ; and that from that which I have delivered many 
conclusions may be drawn of excellent use and very necessary to be 
known, as in the sequel shall partly appear. 

With the second book of the Ethics the general part, as 
we may call it, of Spinoza s philosophy comes to an end. 
The rest is concerned with the application to definite pro 
blems of the principles already laid out. Before we pass 
on to these we cannot but notice the one extraordinary 
defect which is conspicuous in Spinoza s psychology. One 
of the first things we expect from a psychologist nowadays 

1 Or rather the fourth. It appears from Spinoza s letters that the third and 
fourth part of the Ethics were originally meant to form one. 



is a systematic account of the processes of perception and 
knowledge. ?Bu.t Spinoza does not appear to have any theory 
of perception at all. He assumes, as we all assume, that 
there is some kind of correspondence between sensations in 
consciousness and things in the external world. But of the 
nature of that correspondence he has very little to say. We 
find the important proposition, which had already been given 
by Descartes, that sensation, being a function of the organism, 
depends not simply on the external object, but on the organ 
ism as affected by the object J we find also a marked appre 
ciation of the advantages to be derived from studying the 
phenomena of sensation and thought under their physiolo 
gical aspect We do not find, however, any explicit hand 
ling of the problems which are started by the old Platonic 
question : What is Knowledge ? The omission may be 
ascribed to several reasons. First, the aim of Spinoza s 
treatise is not to give a complete system of philosophy or 
psychology, but to show the way to human happiness. The 
philosophical introduction, elaborate as it appears, is sub 
ordinate to the ethical purpose. Next, these questions were 
not prominent in Spinoza s time. They were put in the front 
rank of discussion by Locke, Spinoza s contemporary by birth, 
but in philosophy standing wholly apart from him and be 
longing to another generation. And I conceive that the 
psychological problem of knowledge was obscured to Spinoza s 
own mind by that ambiguous and distracting use of the word 
idea which has already been more than once noticed. Not 
that his metaphysical principles are in themselves unable to 
furnish means of dealing with the problem : on the contrary 
they very much simplify it. The puzzle of sensation, when 
considered in the usual way, is that there is a relation between 
the heterogeneous terms of consciousness and motion. Some 
thing happens in my optic nerves, physiology may or may 
not be able to say exactly what, and thereupon I see. Can 
my sensation of sight be said to resemble the thing seen, or 


the images on my two retinae, or the motions in the optic 
nerves, and if so, in what sense ? These questions are 
essentially insoluble on the common supposition that body 
and mind are distinct" substances or orders in nature. If bodj 
and mind are really the same thing, the knot is cut, or rather. 
vanishes. The problem of making a connexion between the 
inner and the outer series of phenomena becomes a purely 
scientific one. It is no longer a metaphysical paradox, but 
the combination of two methods of observing the same facts, 
or facts belonging to the same orderj and the science of 
physiological psychology can justify itself on philosophical 
grounds, besides making good its claims by the practical test 
of results. But the people who cry materialism at everything 
they disagree with or cannot understand will doubtless cry 
out that this also is materialism. And they are very welcome 
to any good it can do them. 




Behold, I show you truth ! Lower than hell, 
Higher than heaven, outside the utmost stars, 
Farther than Brahm doth dwell, 

Before beginning, and without an end, 

As space eternal and as surety sure, 
Is fixed a power divine which moves to good, 

Only its laws endure. 

Out of the dark it wrought the heart of man, 
Out of dull shells the pheasant s pencilled neck ; 

Ever at toil, it brings to loveliness 
All ancient wrath and wreck. 

It slayeth and it saveth, nowise moved 

Except unto the working out of doom ; 
Its threads are Love and Life ; and Death and Pain 

The shuttles of its loom. 

EDWIN ARNOLD, The Light of Asia. 

SPINOZA S inquiry concerning the Passions, which forms the 
Third Part of the Ethics, is best introduced in his own 


Most of those who have writ concerning the passions and man s 
way of life appear as if they handled not such things as belong to 
nature, and follow her common laws, but things outside nature ; in 
somuch that they conceive man to be in nature as a kingdom with 
in a kingdom. For they suppose that man rather confounds than 
follows the order of nature, and has an absolute power over his own 
actions, being no otherwise determined than by himself. As con- 


earning men s weakness and unsteadfastness, they attribute these not 
to the common power of nature, but to some defect in the nature of 
man ; which therefore they bewail, mock, despise, or (which for the 
most part happens) vituperate ; and he passes for the best prophet 
who can most eloquently and shrewdly rebuke the human mind for 
its weakness. Not that most renowned authors have been wanting (to 
whose labour and ingenuity we do confess ourselves much indebted) 
who have written much and excellently on the right way of life, and 
have given to mankind precepts full of wisdom. But none of these, 
to my knowledge, hath determined the nature and strength of the 
passions, or what on the other part the mind can do in restraining 
them. I well know that the admirable Descartes (though he supposed 
the mind to have an absolute power over its own actions) yet en 
deavoured both to explain human passions by their immediate causes, 
and to show the road whereby the mind could come to a perfect 
mastery thereof. But, in my judgment, he hath shown nothing but 
the exceeding sharpness of his own wit, as I shall prove in the 
fitting place. But to return to those who choose rather to abhor or 
deride the passions and actions of men than to understand them ; 
this sort will no doubt be amazed that I go about to treat of human 
defects and follies after the geometrical manner, and would fain 
demonstrate by certain reasoning that which, as they so loudly 
protest, is against all reason, idle, absurd, and abominable. But 
such is my way. Nothing happens in nature that can be ascribed to 
a defect of nature ; for nature is always and everywhere one and the 
same, and her virtue and power of operation is the same : that is, the 
laws and rules of nature, according to which all things are made and 
change from one form into another, are everywhere and always the 
same ; and therefore there should be but one and the same way of 
understanding things of whatsoever kind, to wit, by the universal laws 
and rules of nature. Thus the passions of hatred, anger, envy and 
the like, when considered in themselves, follow from the like necessity 
and virtue of nature as all other individual things ; and accordingly 
they obey fixed causes, whereby they may be understood, and have 
their fixed properties, equally worthy of our knowledge as the pro 
perties of any other thing in the mere contemplation whereof we take 
delight. I shall treat therefore of the nature and strength of the 
passions, and the power of the mind over them, by the same method 
as I have treated of God and the mind in the foregoing parts ; and I 
shall consider human actions and desires after the same sort as if the 
inquiry were concerned with lines, surfaces, or solids. 


This passage throws light, among other things, on the 
true significance of Spinoza s geometrical method. It is not 
that he thinks the geometrical method of exposition an in 
fallible engine of discovery ; but he is determined to conduct 
the investigation of human nature in a purely scientific spirit, 
and he chooses the geometrical form as the most perfect and 
striking type of scientific method. The scientific value of his 
results in this part of his work is not only recognized by 
modern criticism, but may be described as the one point on 
which almost all expounders and critics have agreed. Spi 
noza s account of the passions is universally spoken of as his 
masterpiece. I shall quote only one scientific testimony, 
which has a peculiar value as coming from a leading authority 
in physiology, being given in the course of his proper scientific 
work, and acted upon by him in an unmistakable manner. 
This witness is Johannes Miiller. 

With regard to the relations of the passions to one another, apart 
from their physiological conditions, it is impossible to give any better 
account than that which Spinoza has laid down with unsurpassed 
mastery. In the following statement I shall therefore confine myself 
to giving the propositions of Spinoza on that subject. * 

And this he proceeds to do without further criticism or 
comment. We shall find that his view is indirectly con 
firmed by the work of more recent inquirers in both natural 
science and psychology. 

The first spring of action, common to man with every 
creature, is self-preservation. We must not say the desire of 
self-preservation, for desire, as conceived by Spinoza, comes 
later. His leading propositions on the subject are thus ex 
pressed : - 

1 Physiologic dis Menschen, ii. 543. Dr. Diihring s remarks on this are 
curious : In neuester Zeit hat auch ein Physiolog von einigem Professorruf, 
Johannes Miiller, ungeachtet seiner engherzigen, religios und politisch riicklaufigen 
Denkweise, von seinem Standpunkt aus die von Spinoza gelieferte Statik der 
Leidenschaften fiir so gelungen erachtet, &c. 


Each individual thing, so far as in it lies, endeavours to persist 
in its own being. 

The effort wherewith everything endeavours to persist in its own 
being is nothing else than that tiling s being what it is (praeter ipsius 
rei actualem essentiam). 1 

In a former chapter we traced this fundamental proposition 
from its Cartesian use as a physical axiom or law of motion 
through Spinoza s repetition and extension of it in the ex 
position of Descartes which was his first published work. We 
also noticed that in a more extensive application it was 
current in the post- Aristotelian schools of Greek philosophy, 
and notably among the Stoics. In the middle ages, too, it 
appears to have been familiar in a scholastic form. Spinoza, 
however, probably knew nothing of its earlier history and 
meaning, and certainly did not concern himself with them. 
He took the statement from Descartes as a general law of 
physics ; and, as he extended without limit the scientific 
view of the world propounded by Descartes, so he extended 
the range of those principles from which the Cartesian system 
undertook to explain all sensible phenomena, or at least to 
show that they were explicable. 

It is important to bear in mind the interpretation and 
warning given by Spinoza himself. The statement that 
everything endeavours to persist in its own being might seem 
to imply some notion that the effort or tendency to self-pre 
servation is a mysterious power implanted in things and 
antecedent to their existence. Such a power has been con 
ceived in both ancient and modern philosophies. Varieties of 
it are the karma of Buddhism, which performs the singular 
feat of keeping up a chain of transmigration when there is no 
soul to transmigrate ; 2 the supposed ultimate activity sym 
bolically called Will by Schopenhauer ; and the more ela 
borate version of it given as the Unconscious in Hartmann s 

1 Eth. iii. pr. 6, 7 ; cf. Cogit. Met. pt. i. cap. 7, 8. 

2 Rhys Davids, Buddhism, p. 101. 


system. But Spinoza most carefully excludes all assump 
tions of this kind. The self-preserving effort is nothing else 
than the thing s being what it is. Whatever the thing in 
question may be, the mere fact of its existence means that it 
must be reckoned with. Great or small, there it is, and you 
cannot get it out of the way without doing work upon it. 
Destruction is only a name for processes of change which are 
peculiarly conspicuous to our senses or important in their 
results. Every change implies motion, and every motion 
implies work, and signifies resistance overcome. This resist 
ance, as we call it from the point of view of the worker over 
coming it from the outside, is persistence or * effort of self- 
preservation if we shift the adjustment of the mind s eye, and 
fix the centre of the field of imagination in the thing operated 
upon. The use of the word effort (conatus} belongs to the 
realistic habits of scientific language in Spinoza s time. He 
speaks of effort in this relation, just as long afterwards mathe 
maticians were accustomed to speak of a force or power of 
inertia, which is indeed the same thing in its simplest physical 
aspect. It might be rash to affirm that even now vis inertice 
and other terms of the same kind do not survive in books 
which may be put into the hands of students. But at that 
time the usage went farther. Not only inertia was a force, 
but velocity was spoken of as the cause of a body s changing 
its place. Nay, in our own time Mr. Herbert Spencer has 
called momentum the cause of motion. We need not be 
surprised, then, that elsewhere Spinoza speaks of this self- 
preserving endeavour as a force (vis qua unaquaeque [res] in 
existendo perseverat). 1 In the case of living creatures he 
identifies it with life. In the less complex relations of the 
material world it would appear (as we have just seen) in the 

1 Eth. ii. 45, Schol., with which cf. Cogit. Met. pt. ii. cap. 6, 3 ; but he 
there says, Ilia vis a rebus ipsis est diversa, which is contradicted not only by 
the Ethics, but quite as strongly by a passage which stands earlier in the same 
work (pt. i. c. 6, 8, 9). I have already suggested that the Cogitata Metaphys. cz 
may be made up of notes written at various dates. 



fundamental properties of matter inertia, mass, and impene 
trability. But the fact now assumed as ultimate for ordinary 
scientific purposes, that every atom of every element succeeds 
in preserving itself, would in Spinoza s view be no more than 
a striking illustration. The conatus is equally present in the 
most unstable as in the most stable of combinations. A 
molecule of water endeavours, in the peculiar sense here ex 
plained, not to be decomposed ; and not less so, while it holds 
together, does the molecule of some of those transitory com 
pounds which explode at a touch or vibration. 

It will perhaps help us to understand Spinoza s meaning 
if we invert the order of his terms. Instead of considering 
whether things can be said to exercise a self-preserving effort, 
let us ask ourselves what we mean by a thing. 1 The question 
is not as easy as it seems ; yet an answer may be given in 
few words. We take it from Mr. Herbert Spencer : exist 
ence, he tells us, means persistence. A thing is a group of 
phenomena which persists. Herein is its individuality, its 
title to be counted apart from the surrounding medium. We 
shall find that persistence for an appreciable time, in a manner 
obvious to sense, and against appreciable external force, is 
the test applied by the unconscious philosophizing of language. 

The first requisite of a thing is that it should be appa 
rently continuous in itself and not continuous with things 
outside it. It must be definite, or we should not want to 
name it ; still more must it be persistent, or we could not 
name it at all. What is more, the persistence must be con 
ceived as depending on the thing itself, and not as a pre 
carious result of external conditions. Take a cubical vessel 
full of water. The vessel is beyond question a thing. Is 
the water also a thing ? Every molecule of it is assuredly 
represented as a real thing in the duly trained imagination, 

1 Spinoza gives a physical definition in Cartesian terms of unum corpus size 
indimduum in Part ii. of the Ethics (excursus after Schol. to Pr. 13). But it is 
not exactly to the present purpose^ nor is it very lucid to the modern reader. 


though it cannot be separately observed. But the body of water 
is not regarded as a thing either by a scientific or an unscien 
tific observer. It is sensibly continuous, and it is persistent so 
long as it is confined by the walls of the vessel ; but it will 
persist no longer. When the external restraint is removed it 
will flow away, assume other forms, and be dispersed. We 
refuse it the name of a thing because it is manifestly held 
together only by external forces. Take a cubic inch of water 
inside this vessel, or a cubic foot of air in the atmosphere : 
these again are not things in common speech, and for the like 
reasons. Cases may be put, however, so as to present all 
degrees of doubt. For example, is a pile of cannon-balls a 
thing ? More work is required to dislodge one of the shot 
than to sever or destroy many things of undoubted reality, if 
we may use the term in a strictly scholastic sense ; and the 
pile is not less continuous to the eye than many a rough stone 
wall or cairn which, like itself, is kept together merely by 
friction and gravity. Nevertheless, while nobody would 
hesitate to speak of the wall or cairn as a thing, I doubt 
whether any one would so speak of the pile of shot, unless as 
an object confusedly seen in the distance. I conceive that 
here we are determined by considerations of human use and 
intention. The normal use of stones is to be built into walls, 
and the possible uses of the individual stones are too trifling to 
be much thought of. Cannon-balls are made to be separately 
fired off, and the pile is in itself of no use whatever. In the 
case of the wall or cairn the parts are there for the sake of the 
whole, and are merged in it : in the case of the pile of shot 
the whole is there for the sake of the parts. Hence we 
regard the heap of stones as meant for one permanent thing, 
and the heap of shot as meant for a provisional arrangement of 
many things. In fine, the conception of individual things as 
such is an affair of our perceptions, and to some extent of our 
convenience. That such was Spinoza s view is pretty mani 
fest from what he says in various places in the First and 


Second Parts of the Ethics, and this goes to support the read 
ing now offered of his principle of self-preservation. 

So understood, the principle is simple enough. How then 
does Spinoza connect it with the world of life and action ? or 
what light can it throw on the intricate play of human 
passions ? The connexion is made out by affirming that the 
impulse or desire of self-preservation which we know in our 
own feeling is a special manifestation of the universal principle 
involved in existence itself. The mind endeavours to 
persist in its being with a certain undetermined duration, and 
is conscious of this its endeavour. l Such endeavour, consi 
dered with regard to the mind alone, is called will ; consi 
dered with regard to mind and body together, it is called 
appetite ; which is nothing else than the very being of the 
man, from whose nature those things of necessity follow 
which make for his preservation ; and thus the man is deter 
mined to the doing of such things. Then betwixt appetite 
and desire there is no difference, save that for the most part 
desire is ascribed to men in so far as they be conscious of 
their appetite ; and therefore it may be thus defined, that is 
to say : desire is appetite with consciousness thereof. From all 
which it appears that we have not endeavour, will, appetite, 
or desire for anything, because we deem it good ; but con 
trariwise deem a thing good, because we have an endeavour, 
will, appetite, or desire for it. 

Whether this bold and far-reaching thought of Spinoza s 
can be justified in its whole extent I do not venture to say. 
But I entertain no doubt that, after all possible deductions, it 
contains profound and vital truth. It seems probable that 
the extreme complexity and the late development of distinct 
consciousness, and consequently of the emotions as they are 
known in the adult experience of mankind, were underrated 
by Spinoza. It may be that they were very much under 
rated, though we have already seen that the composite 

1 Eth. iii. 9, and Schol. 


character of mind was most clearly asserted by him. He 
appears to jump from unconscious organic processes which, 
let us again repeat it, are in his view mental as well as 
material, or rather both in one to the facts of vivid con 
sciousness. The love of life in man is more than an organic 
feeling ; the finished ideas of memory and expectation, and 
even the highly wrought conceptions of our ethical and social 
nature, have their part in it. And in our active consciousness 
these more refined elements are predominant. But in the 
main it is enough for Spinoza s purpose that the organic feel 
ing is there ; and that such a feeling is in truth deeply rooted 
in us is a proposition which we need not waste time in 
establishing. We have already called in Mr. Herbert 
Spencer to help us to a modern reading of Spinoza s thought. 
We shall now for a like purpose appeal to his definition of life, 
which is especially valuable as an interpretation of scientific 
results framed in perfect independence of Spinoza s work, and 
proceeding on different lines. 

According to this definition, life is the continuous adjust 
ment of internal relations to external relations ; it consists 
in maintenance of inner actions corresponding with outer 
actions. Now this adjustment or maintenance is precisely 
what Spinoza means by a thing s persistence in its own being. 
The organism endeavours to persist in the face of external 
conditions, converting them to its use when it can, or resisting 
them at need ; and the success of this endeavour is life. It is 
observed by Mr. Herbert Spencer himself that the definition 
in this form is too wide ; but, to whatever extent this may be 
a defect for the purposes of natural history or biology, from 
Spinoza s point of view it is a merit. The correlation of mind 
and matter being universal, and all things endowed with life 
in various degrees, philosophy is not concerned to draw a line 
anywhere to mark where life begins. Philosophically speak 
ing, the attempt to draw one is illusory ; and it is a question 
whether science itself may not ere long bring us the same 


report. We may confine ourselves for the present, however, 
to the undoubted manifestations of life. Spinoza does not 
profess to give a particular account of nature, or even the 
whole of animated nature, but of man. As regards life in its 
common acceptation, it will be seen that Mr. Herbert Spencer 
takes in a factor of great importance which is not marked by 
Spinoza. He speaks of continuous adjustment, thus implying 
that external relations are constantly changing and requiring 
adjustments to be effected. Nature commands the adjust 
ment under the penalty of extinction. Now the striving of 
every creature to keep its own nature in harmony with the 
world around it is the fundamental fact whose consequences 
are traced in the modern doctrine of evolution. Natural 
history, as Mr. Darwin and Mr. Spencer have taught us to 
see, is the history of the never-ceasing effort of individuals 
and races to maintain a certain correspondence between 
the organism and its environment. The nearer this corre 
spondence approaches to completeness, the more perfect and 
secure is the existence of the individual and the kind. 
Spinoza pointed to the law of persistence, but could not trace 
its working. We now know that in operation it becomes a 
law of development. Older by countless ages than conscious 
desire, older than anything to which we now grant the name 
of life, the primeval and common impulse the will to live, 
the competence to be is at length in the sight of all men, as 
it was for Spinoza s keener vision, the root of all action and of 
all that makes the world alive. Not that we claim Spinoza 
as a forerunner of the theory of evolution. He had no 
materials for anticipating it ; and even if he had seemed to 
I prophesy it, the prophecy would have been a guess in the 
i dark. His merit is rather to have abstained, with a singular 
| philosophical tact or instinct, from any prematurely ambitious 
construction. As his work stands, one does not see that on 
: the face of it his principle of self-conservation is sufficiently 
I connected with the real world : there is a void space between 


the idea and the facts. But one also sees that the required 
connexion is wonderfully supplied by Mr. Darwin. The gap 
has been left open at exactly the right place, and Spinoza 
had the wisdom to leave it open rather than fill it up in 
adequately, and the courage to stand by the idea with such 
light as he had. 

The practical value of Spinoza s analysis of the passions 
is, however, to a great extent independent of the general 
axiom from which he starts. All that is really necessary to 
be granted is that man has the impulse or instinct of self- 
preservation, and desires power and fulness of life : and this 
much it would need some boldness to dispute, however the 
fact itself may be explicable. Let us see how Spinoza 
reaches the cardinal definitions of Pleasure and Pain ; car- 
\ dinal because with him Pleasure, Pain, and Desire are the 
iprimary elements of which, according to the variety of objects 
jexciting them, all human passions are compounded. It is 
stated as a direct consequence from the correspondence of 
body and mind that whatsoever increases or diminishes, helps 
or hinders, the active power (agendi potentiam) of our body ; 
the idea thereof likewise increases or diminishes, helps* or 
hinders, the sentient power (cogitandi potentiam) of our 
mind. Thus we see, adds the Scholium, that the mind 
may undergo great variations, and pass now to a greater, now 
to a lesser perfection ; which effects explain to us the states 
of pleasure and pain. >y pleasure I shall therefore hereafter 
understand an affection whereby the mind passes to a greater 
perfection ; and by pain an affection whereby it passes to a 
lesser perfection. * Here again there is a singular coincidence 
with modern scientific speculation. Mr. Herbert Spencer is 
led, on the one hand by the evidence of the actual conditions 
of pleasure and pain in their most conspicuous and regular 
manifestations, on the other hand by deduction from the 
hypothesis of evolution, to conclude that pains are the 

1 Eth. iii. 1 1. 


correlatives of actions injurious to the organism, while 
pleasures are the correlatives of actions conducive to its 
welfare. But an action or event conducive to the welfare of 
the organism is precisely what Spinoza means by transition 
to a greater perfection ; conversely, an action injurious to the 
organism is in Spinoza s language a transition to less per 
fection. Pleasure marks the raising, pain the lowering, of the 
vital energies, and consequently the advance or depression of 
the creature in the scale of being, to a corresponding extent 
and in so far as the particular event is concerned. The 
results of the philosopher who still passes for a mere dog 
matist agree in their full extent with those of the latest 
inquirer working by induction from the facts of biology. 
Spinoza s definition, it will be seen, implies that pleasure is i 
not only normally but invariably beneficial in itself, and pain I 
hurtful. Not that the normal indications of pain and pleasure 
may not be disturbed, so as to make them in particular cases 
blind or worse than blind guides. Experience of this kind is 
only too common ; and the explanation of it is briefly touched 
on by Mr. Herbert Spencer, and has been more lately con 
sidered by others. But the pleasure which leads to ultimate 
harm is yet not an evil in itself, but a partial good bought 
at a ruinous price : the pain which brings healing is not by 
itself a good, but an evil submitted to that greater evil may 
be avoided. And we here use the terms good and evil as 
denoting the quality, not of the sensation as such (for that 
would only be to say that pleasure is pleasure and pain is 
pain), but of the events and relations in the organism imme 
diately indicated by the sensation. Anaesthetics, for example, 
are useful not merely because pain is escaped for the moment, 
but because the shock and exhaustion which are the direct 
consequences of pain are escaped with it. This view of the 
intrinsic utility of pleasure and hurtfulness of pain has been 
ingeniously maintained by Mr. Grant Allen, who thus com 
pletes the accordance between Mr. Herbert Spencer s doctrine 



and that of Spinoza. Accepting this view, we shall say that 
the action beneficial to the organism which, in Mr. Spencer s 
language, is correlated with pleasure, is not the antecedent or 
concomitant of the pleasurable sensation, but the corporeal or 
objective aspect of the sensation itself. The importance of 
the remoter consequences, and the weight of Mr. Spencer s 
argument therefrom, remain, of course, unchanged. The in 
dividuals and races whose nervous system has been trained 
by experience to forecast impending good or ill at an early 
stage, and to report them by means of pleasure and pain to 
the centres of voluntary action, have an advantage in the 
struggle for life precisely like that of the prudent over the un 
thinking man, or of an army where sentinel and outpost duties 
are carefully performed over one in which they are neglected. 
But we must return to following Spinoza. 

The special forms of Pleasure and Pain on which most of 
the passions depend are Love and Hatred. In Spinoza s 
language these include like and dislike ; in fact the English 
language is alone, or nearly so, in marking a difference of 
degree in these emotions so sharply as it does. The mind 
seeks to retain in consciousness whatever increases its power, 
and to recall whatever may counteract the impression of such 
things as hurt or hinder it ; these being simple manifestations 
of the self-preserving tendency. Hence arise Love, which is 
Pleasure accompanied by the idea of an external cause ; and 
Hatred, which is Pain with the like accompaniment And, by 
the law of association of ideas already given in the Second 
Part, objects in themselves indifferent may excite pleasure, 
pain, and desire by their casual association with other things 
which are of themselves apt to excite those emotions. Hence 
the obscure likings and dislikings which are commonly referred 
to an unknown cause called sympathy or antipathy. They 
depend on some association by resemblance which is known 
only in its effects. 1 Through association, again, a conflict of 

1 Eth. iii. 12-15. 


emotions is possible ; for something which affects us with pain 
may at the same time call up memories of equal or greater 
pleasure. But conflicts may be more directly produced, for 
the human body is exceedingly complex, and therefore may 
be variously affected at the same time and by the same object. 
External objects, too, are themselves complex, and may have 
complex effects on the same bodily organs. The emotions of 
hope, fear, confidence, despair, joy, and disappointment, are 
accounted for by the imagination working on the conception 
of pleasurable or painful events as future or past. 1 The effects 
of love and hatred in inducing emotions of pleasure and pain 
by sympathy are then set forth. We have pleasure in the 
welfare of a beloved object, and pain in its destruction ; its 
pleasure and pain give rise to the like affections in us ; we 
love that which we conceive as giving pleasure to it, and hate 
that which we conceive as giving pain ; and hatred on the 
other hand produces the contrary effects (Eth. 3, 19-26). But 
the range and power of sympathy are yet wider. In addition 
to these causes the mere conception of anything as like our 
selves is a source of induced emotion. 

When it happens that we imagine a thing like ourselves, and 
which we have not regarded with any particular emotion, to be 
affected with any emotion, we are thereupon affected with the like 
emotion 2 (Pr. 27). 

For, in so far as an external object conceived by us as 
affected in a particular way resembles our own body, so far 
will our representation of its condition include a representation 
or faint repetition of similar states of our own consciousness : 
or, under the physiological aspect, as Spinoza puts it, the idea 
of the external body imagined by us will imply an affection 
of our body like to that of the external body ; and accordingly 

1 Propp. 17, 1 8. I translate consdentiae morsus by disappointment, as Spinoza 
warns us at the end of the book that his terms do not always bear their common 
meaning. Remorse is described later as poenitentia. 

- The original Affecttis is a wider term ; not being confined to consciousness 

Q 2 


if we imagine any one like ourselves to be affected with any 
emotion, this imagination will be the expression in conscious 
ness of an affection of our body like the said emotion. Here, 
as often in Spinoza, the complexity and difficulty of the physio 
logical side of the inquiry are apparently slurred or underrated. 
But the psychology is thoroughly sound in its main features, 
and we must never forget that it was by keeping the physio 
logical side constantly in view that Spinoza escaped the count 
less fallacies from which not even Kant has been able wholly 
to deliver us. 

Varieties of these induced or imitative emotions of sym 
pathy are pity, emulation or the pursuit of similar objects of 
desire, and benevolence, which is defined as a desire arising 
from pity, and seeking to liberate the object of pity from the 
evils of its condition. 1 Another result of this extended sym 
pathy (which in modern language we may call the sympathy 
of race, or more shortly and exactly kindliness) is that we 
shall endeavour to do whatever we conceive men to look upon 
with pleasure, and shun the doing of that which we conceive 
them to shun (Pr. 29). If we think we have succeeded in 
pleasing other men by our actions, the result is complacency ; 
if we seem to have displeased them, it is shame. The belief 
that our affection towards any object is shared by others will 
strengthen that affection ; if the disposition of another towards 
an object liked or disliked by us is contrary to our own, there 
ensues a fluctuation or conflict of emotion in us. Hence we 
endeavour to associate others with us in our emotions. This 
desire that others should agree with us has in its crude form 
the nature of ambition, and begets mutual hindrance and dis 
cord. Hence also arises envy : for another s enjoyment ex 
cites in us an appetite for the like enjoyment ; and if it is 
such that it cannot be shared with our neighbour, we shall 
wish to deprive him of it. 2 How these effects of sympathy 

1 Benevolentia . . . nihil aliud estquam cupiditas e commiseratione orta. (Pr. 
27, Schol. 2.) 
1 Pr. 30-32. 


may be controlled to rational and social uses is not considered 
in the present part of the Ethics, but will appear in due 
course. Spinoza throws out here, but without dwelling on it, 
the important hint that the psychology of the passions may be 
studied to advantage in children, their tender organism being 
as it were in a state of unstable equilibrium, and offering 
slight resistance to external impressions. We see that the 
laughing or weeping of others in their presence will make 
them laugh or weep ; that they seek to imitate whatever they 
see others doing, and desire for themselves whatever seems to 
give pleasure to others. 1 

Other combinations and effects of the master passions of 
love and hatred are worked out in a series of propositions 
which we shall not follow in detail. But it may be useful to 
translate a few of them as specimens of Spinoza s manner. 
The omitted demonstrations involve reference to other pro 
positions without which they are not intelligible. 

Prop. 43. Hatred is increased by mutual hatred, and contrariwise 
may be abolished by love. 

Demonstration. Whenever one conceives a person hated by him 
to be affected with hatred towards him, thereupon a new hatred 
arises while the first, by the supposition, is yet in being. But if on 
the other hand he conceive this person to be affected with love 
towards him, in so far as he conceives this he will regard himself with 
pleasure, and to that extent will endeavour to please that other ; that 
is, to that extent he endeavours not to hate him and to do no dis 
pleasure to him. And this endeavour will be greater or less in pro 
portion to the emotion whence it arises. Therefore if it be greater than 
that which arises from hatred, and through which the man endeavours 
: to do displeasure to the thing he hates, it will prevail over it, and 
; . abolish the hate from his mind ; which was to be proved. 

Prop. 44. When hatred is wholly overcome by love, it passes into 
llove ; and this love is greater than if hatred had not gone before it. 

Scholium. Though this be so, yet no man will endeavour to hate 
anything or undergo displeasure that he may enjoy this greater 
pleasure ; that is, no one will desire harm to be done to himself for 

1 Pr. 32, Schol. 


the hope of making it good, nor long to be sick for the hope of 
growing whole. For every man will always endeavour to preserve 
his being and to keep off pain as far as he can. But if it can be 
supposed that a man may desire to hate some one that he may after 
wards be affected with greater love towards him, then he will con 
stantly desire to hate him. F< r the greater the hatred has been, the 
greater the love shall be, and therefore he will constantly wish the 
hate to be more and more augmented ; and for the like reason a 
man will endeavour to be more and more sick, that he may enjoy 
greater pleasure afterwards in the return of health ; which is absurd. 

Prop. 49. Love and hatred towards a thing which we conceive as 
free must both be greater, the occasion being otherwise the same, 
than towards a thing conceived as necessary. 

SchoL Hence it follows that men, because they deem themselves 
free, are moved toward one another with greater love and hate than 
other creatures ; besides which is to be considered the imitation of 
emotions above mentioned (Prop. 27, 34, 40, and 43 of this Part). 

A little farther on we have an important group of pro 
positions concerning the active powers of the mind. When 
the mind contemplates itself and its own power, this gives 
rise to pleasure ; while the contemplation of one s own weak 
ness gives rise to pain. 1 

1 This displeasure accompanied by the idea of our own weakness 
is called dejection (humilitas) ; the pleasure that arises from the con 
templation of oneself is named self-love or self-complacency. And 
seeing this is renewed every time that a man contemplates his own 
faculties or active power, it likewise follows that every one is eager to 
recount his own doings and display his strength both of body and 
mind, and for this reason men are troublesome to one another. 
Also this oftentimes leads men to be enviously disposed, that is, to 
rejoice at the infirmity of their fellows, and be displeased at their 
excellence. For so often as this or that man conceives his own 
actions, he is affected with pleasure, and the more so as he conceives 
them more distinctly and as expressing a greater perfection ; or in 
other words, the more he can distinguish them from others and 
contemplate them as individual things. Wherefore every one will j 
most rejoice in the contemplation of himself when the quality con- 

1 Propp. 53, 54, 55. Prop. 54 is a curious example of Spinoza s most artificial 


templated in himself is somewhat he allows not in other creatures. 
But if that which he affirms of himself be ascribed by him to man or 
animals in general, he will not be so much delighted ; contrariwise 
he will be displeased if he conceives his own actions as infirm in 
comparison of other men s. And this displeasure he will strive to 
put off, namely, by perversely construing the actions of his fellows, or 
dressing out his own as best he may. Thus ; tis plain that men are 
naturally prone to hate and envy, which last is also favoured by their 
bringing up. For it is the way of parents to urge their children 
towards excellence with the spur of ambition and envy. But per- 
adventure some doubt remains, because we often admire men s 
excellence and do them honour. To remove this I shall add this 
following corollary. 

No man is envious of excellence unless in one supposed his 

Demonstration. Envy is of the nature of hate or displeasure, that 
is, an affection whereby man s active power or endeavour is hindered. 
But man doth not endeavour or desire to do anything but what can 
follow from his own nature as he finds the same. Therefore a man 
will not desire any active power or excellence (for tis all one) to be 
attributed to him which belongs to some other nature and is foreign 
to his own. So his desire cannot be hindered, that is, the man 
cannot suffer displeasure, from his contemplation of some excellence 
in one unlike himself, and by consequence he cannot envy such an 
one. But his equal fellow he can envy, since he is assumed to be of 
like nature with him. 

So that when we admire men for singular foresight, 
courage, or other qualities, this is because we conceive their 
qualities, at least in that degree, as singular and above the 
common fortune of men. The hero is conceived as not of one 
mould with ourselves, and we no more entertain envy with 
respect to him than against the lion for his courage or against 
a tree for its height. 1 

It is to be observed that Spinoza is in this book concerned 
only with the play of the emotions when left to themselves. 
He does not mean to deny that rational and unselfish 
admiration of human excellence as such is possible and 

1 Scholia to Prop. 5";. 


practicable. But this is the effect of right knowledge and the 
discipline of society, which have not yet been considered. It 
is next pointed out that pleasure, pain and desire, and there 
fore all the emotions derived from them, are of as many kinds 
and varieties as the external objects which are the occasion 
of them ; and also that the emotions differ in every individual 
-according to the difference of the internal conditions of his 
constitution. Thus the desires and appetites of animals are 
specifically different from the analogous desires and appetites 
in man, and the pleasure of a drunkard is by no means the 
same as the pleasure of a philosopher. Spinoza here ap 
proaches the question whether all pleasures are commensurable, 
which is prominent in modern discussions of the theory oi 
ethics : but he does not pursue it. From his point of view it 
is at best superfluous, and I cannot help suspecting that, 
either in Spinoza s way or in some other not very far from it, 
we shall finally acquiesce in the same conclusion. 

So far the discourse has been of the emotions considered 
as passions, or ascribed to man in so far as he is acted upon ; 
but there are also emotions of an active kind. Pleasure arises 
from the mind s contemplation of its own power ; but such 
contemplation is present whenever the mind has a true or 
adequate idea (because true knowledge includes certitude or 
the consciousness of its truth, Eth. 2, 43, see p. 129 above). 
Therefore the conception of adequate ideas is a pleasurable 
activity of the mind ; and activity as such includes the effort 
or desire of self-maintenance. Hence there is a desire which 
is purely active. This active and reasonable desire is the 
source of virtue ; which has two main branches according as 
desire is directed by reason to the welfare of the agent him 
self, or to doing good to other men and seeking their friend 
ship. (Prop. 59, Schol.) Having thus brought the third part 
of the Ethics to an end, Spinoza recapitulates his definitions of 
the emotions with some few additions and new explanations. 
I shall make no apology for translating this piece at length. 



i. DESIRE is the being of man itself, in so far as we conceive it as 
determined to a particular action by any given affection of it. 

Explanation. We have said above, in the Scholium to Prop. 9 
of this part, that desire is appetite with consciousness thereof ; and 
that appetite is the being itself of man, in so far as it is determined 
to such actions as make for his preservation. But in that scholium 
I likewise noted that in truth I acknowledged no difference between 
the appetite and the desire of men. For whether a man be conscious 
of his appetite or not, yet the appetite is still one and the same ; and 
thus, lest I should seem to fall into tautology, I would not explain 
desire by appetite, but have sought so to define it as to comprise in 
one word all those efforts of human nature which we signify by the 
name of appetite, will, desire or impulse. I might well have said 
that desire is the being of man itself, so far as we conceive it as 
determined to a particular action ; but from this definition it would 
not follow (by Prop. 23, Part 2) * that the mind could be conscious 
of its own appetite or desire. Therefore, in order to include the 
cause of this consciousness, it was needful to add : by any given 
affection of it. For by an affection of human being or nature we 
understand every disposition thereof, whether it be innate, whether 
it be conceived purely under the attribute of thought or purely under 
that of extension, or be ascribed to both together. Here therefore I 
understand by desire man s efforts, impulses, appetites and volitions 
whatsoever, which after the manifold disposition of the same man be 
themselves manifold and not seldom contrary to one another, so 
that the man is dragged this way and that and knows not where to 

2. Pleasure is the passage of a man from less to greater perfec 

3. Pain is the passage of a man from greater to less perfection. 
Explanation. I say passage : for pleasure is not perfection itself. 

For if the man were bom with that perfection whereto he passes, he 
would possess the same without the emotion of pleasure ; as more 
plainly appears from the contrary emotion of pain. For no man can 

1 The mind knows not itself, save so far as it perceives ideas of the affections 
of the body. 


deny that pain consists in a passage to less perfection, and not in 
lesser perfection itself, since a man cannot have pain in that he par 
takes of some degree of perfection. Neither can we say that pain 
consists in being deprived of a greater perfection ; for deprivation is 
nothing. So the emotion of pain is an act, which can be no other 
than that of passing to a less perfection, that is, an act whereby the 
active power of man is diminished or hindered. See the Scholium 
to Prop. 1 1 of this Part. For the definitions of cheerfulness, merri 
ment, melancholy and grief, I pass them over, because they have 
rather the nature of bodily affections, and are but kinds of pleasure 
or pain. 

4. Wonder is the imagination of somewhat whereon the mind 
remains fixed because that particular imagination hath no sensible 
connexion with others. See Prop. 52 with the Scholium. 

Explanation. In the Scholium to Prop. 18, Part 2, we have shown 
what is the cause that the mind from contemplating one thing straight 
way falls into thinking of another ; namely because the images 1 of those 
things are mutually linked together in such order that one follows on 
the other. Which cannot be supposed where the image of the thing 
is novel ; so that in such case the mind will be holden in the con 
templation of the same thing till it be determined by other causes to 
think on other matters. Thus the imagination of a new object, if we 
consider it in itself, is of like nature with others : and for this reason 
I do not reckon wonder among the emotions, nor see any ground 
why I should, since this distraction of the mind ariseth from no 
positive cause that should draw the mind off from other things, but 
only from this, that a cause is wanting for which the mind should 
be determined to think on other things. Therefore I admit (as I 
have noted in the Scholium to Prop, u) only three primitive or 
primary emotions, namely, of pleasure, pain, and desire ; and I 
have mentioned wonder for no other reason than that it is our 
custom to call certain emotions derived from the three primitive 
ones by different names when they have regard to objects of our 
wonder, And for the same reason I am minded to add here a 
definition of contempt. 

5. Contempt is the imagination of a thing which so little moves 
the mind that by the presence of the thing it is inclined rather to 
imagine the qualities which are not in the thing than those which are 
in it. See the scholium to Prop. 52. 

1 In modern language we should say ideas or concepts. 


The definitions of worship and scorn (venerationis ct dcdignationis] 
I here leave alone, since no emotions are to my knowledge named 
after them. 

6. Love is pleasure accompanied by the idea of an external 


Explanation. This definition clearly explains wherein love consists. 
But that of the authors who define it as the will of the lover to unite 
himself to the thing loved expresses not the nature of love but a 
particular property thereof. And since the nature of love was not 
well understood by these authors, they could not so much as form a 
clear notion of that property ; and hence their definition hath been 
generally esteemed pretty obscure. But it is to be observed that 
when I say that this property is in love, to have a will for union with 
the thing loved, I mean by will not an assent or conclusion, nor a free 
resolve of the mind (for this I have shown to be a fiction in Prop. 48, 
Part 2) ; nor yet the desire of being united to the thing loved when 
it is away, or of continuing in its presence when it is by ; for love 
may be conceived without either of these desires ; but by this will I 
understand the content which arises in him that loves upon the 
presence of the thing loved, whereby the pleasure of the lover is 
strengthened or at least encouraged. 1 

7. Hate (or dislike) is pain accompanied by the idea of an 
external cause. 

Explanation. Whatever is to be observed here is easily collected 
from the explanation to the foregoing definition, and seethe Scholium 

to Prop. 13. 

8. Inclination is pleasure accompanied by the idea of something 
which is a casual occasion (per accident causa] of pleasure. 

9. Aversion is pain accompanied by the idea of something 
which is a casual occasion of pain. See as to these the Scholium to 
Prop. 15. 

10. Devotion is love towards one whom we admire. 
Explanation. Admiration or wonder ariseth from the novelty of 

the thing, as we showed in Prop. 52. If therefore it happen that we 

1 Remembering that Spinoza s amor is taken in the widest possible sense, we 
may doubt if the property in question is universal. A statesman or philanthropist 
may do good to people hundreds or thousands of miles away who never heard of 
his existence. When he thinks of the good he has done them collectively, his 
feeling will be laetitia concomitante idea causae externae ; but their individual 
presence may be indifferent or even disagreeable to him. Spinoza would say that 
even here there is some pleasure, but that it is overpowered by dislike arising 
from other causes. 


often imagine something we admire, we shall cease to admire it ; 
and thus we see that devotion is apt to reduce itself to mere love. 

u. Derision is pleasure arising from our imagination that some 
thing we contemn is present in something which we hate. 

Explanation. So far as we contemn a thing which we hate, we 
deny existence of it (see Prop. 52, Schol.) and therefore (by Prop. 
20) we are pleased. But since we assume that the man who derides 
a thing also hates it, it follows that such pleasure is unsubstantial. 
See the Schol. to Prop. 47. 

12. Hope is an unconstant pleasure bred of the idea of a future 
or past thing, of the issue 1 whereof we are to some extent in doubt. 
See as to this Prop. 18, Schol. 2. 

13. Fear is an unconstant pain bred of the idea of a future or 
past thing, of the issue whereof we are to some extent in doubt. 
See as to these Prop. 18, Schol. 2. 

Explanation. From these definitions it follows that there is no hope 
without fear, nor fear without hope. For whoever is in hope and 
doubts of the issue of the matter, the same is assumed to imagine 
somewhat that excludes the existence of the thing hoped for ; and 
so far, therefore, to receive pain (Prop. 19) and, while he is in hope, 
to fear that the desired thing may not happen. Again, he who is in 
fear, that is, doubts of the issue of a thing he dislikes, also imagines 
somewhat that excludes the existence of that thing ; and therefore is 
pleased (Prop. 20), and so to that extent has hope that the thing may 
not happen. 

14. Confidence is pleasure bred of the idea of a future or past 
thing concerning which our cause of doubt is removed. 

15. Despair is pain bred of the idea of a future or past thing con 
cerning which our cause of doubt is removed. 

Explanation. Thus there ariseth of hope confidence, and of fear 
despair, when our cause of doubt as to the issue of the thing is taken 
away ; which happens because a man imagines a past or future thing 
as present to him, and as such contemplates it ; or because he 
imagines other matters which exclude the existence of those things 
which threw him into doubt. For although we can never be truly 
certain of the issue of particular things (by the Corollary to Prop. 31, 
Part 2), 2 yet it may so be that we have no doubt thereof. For we 

1 Or happening. 

: Omnes res particulares contingentes et corruptibiles esse. The Proposition 
itself seems more in point : Nos de duratione rerum singularium quae extra nos 
sunt nullam nisi admodum inadaequatam cognitionem habere possumus. 


have shown (see the Scholium, Prop. 49, Part 2) that it is one thing 
to have no doubt of a matter, another to have the certainty of it ; 
and thus it may come to pass that the imagination of a past or future 
thing may affect us with the same emotion of pleasure or pain as the 
imagination of the thing when present : as we have proved in Prop. 
1 8 of this Part, which see, as well as its second Scholium. 

1 6. Joy is pleasure accompanied by the idea of something past 
which happened beyond our expectation. 

17. Disappointment or grief (conscientiac morsus) is pain accom 
panied by the idea of something past which happened beyond our 

1 8. Pity (commiseratio) is pain accompanied by the idea of evil 
happening to another whom we conceive to be like ourselves. See 
the Scholia to Prop. 22 and 27 of this Part. 

Explanation. Between pity and mercy (misericordiam) there 
seems to be no difference, unless perhaps that pity has regard to 
the emotion in particular, mercy to the disposition thereto. ! 

19. Approval (favor} is love toward some one who has done good 
to another. 

20. Indignation is hate towards some one who has done ill to 

Explanation. I know that these terms have a different meaning 
in common use. But my purpose is not to explain the meaning of 
words but the nature of things, and to signify the things by words 
whose accustomed meaning is not wholly repugnant to that in which 
I desire to use them. And so let it suffice to note this once for all. 
As to the causes of these emotions, see Coroll. i, Prop. 27, and the 
Schol. to Prop. 22 of this Part. 

21. Over-esteem (existimatio) is to think too highly of a man for 
love s sake. 

22. Disparagement (despectus)\s to think too meanly of a man for 
hate s sake. 

Explanation. Over- esteem is thus an effect or property of love, 
and disparagement of hate ; and so over-esteem may likewise be 
thus denned, that it is love, so far forth as it moves a man to think too 
highly of the thing loved, and on the other part disparagement 
may be defined as hate, so far forth as it moves a man to think too 
meanly of one whom he hates. See the Scholium to Prop. 26 of 
I this Part. 

1 It is even more difficult to find in English the difference indicated by Spinoza. 
Auerbach uses Mitleid and Mitgefiihl. 


23. Envy is hate, in so far as it disposeth a man to be sorry at 
another s happiness, and contrariwise rejoice in his misfortune. 

Explanation. To Envy we commonly oppose Mercy, which 
accordingly may be thus defined, though against the usual meaning 
of the word : 

24. Mercy (or Good Will) is love, in so far as it disposeth a man 
to rejoice in another s good fortune and contrariwise be sorry at his 
ill fortune. 

Explanation. See more of envy, Prop. 24, Schol. and 32, Schol. 
in this Part. Now these be the emotions of pain, which the idea of 
somewhat outside us doth accompany as being their cause, whether of 
its own nature or by casual association (per acddens.) Hence I pass to 
those which are accompanied by the idea of somewhat within us as a 

25. Self-contentment is pleasure bred of a man s contemplating 
himself and his own active power. 

26. Humility is pain bred of a man s contemplating his own 
impotence or infirmity. 

Explanation. Self-contentment is opposed to humility, so far as 
we understand by it a pleasure that arises from contemplating our 
own active power. But so far as we also understand by it a pleasure 
accompanied by the idea of some act which we conceive ourselves 
to have performed by a free resolve of the mind, then it is the 
opposite of repentance, which we define thus : 

27. Repentance is pain accompanied by the idea of some act 
which we conceive ourselves to have performed by a free resolve of 
the mind. 

Explanation. We have shown the causes of these emotions in the 
Schol. to Prop. 51 of this Part, and Propp. 53, 54, and 55 and its 
Scholium. As to the free resolve of the mind, see Prop. 35, Part 2, 
Schol. But here it is also to be observed that tis no wonder that all 
acts in general which by custom are called wrong are followed by 
pain, and those which are called right by pleasure. For we may 
easily comprehend from what has been above said that this chiefly 
depends on education. Parents have so ordered it by reproving the 
one sort of actions and often rebuking their children therefor, and 
contrariwise commending and praising the other, that passions of pain 
are joined with the one, but of pleasure with the other. And this is 
likewise confirmed by actual experience. For custom and religion 
be not for all men the same ; but what is holy with some is profane 
with others, and what is honourable with some is base with others. 


So that according as every man is brought up, he repenteth of a 
particular deed or maketh boast of the same. 

28. Pride is to think too highly of oneself by reason of self-love. 
Explanation. The difference of pride and over-esteem is that the 

latter hath regard to an outward object, but pride to the man himself, 
esteeming himself overmuch. Now as over-esteem is an effect or 
property of love, so is pride of selfishness, and may therefore be also 
thus denned, that it is self-love or self-contentment, in so far as it 
disposeth one to think too highly of himself. See Prop. 26, Schol. 
To this emotion there is none contrary. For no man thinks too 
meanly of himself through hating himself; nay there is no man 
thinks too meanly of himself, so far as he conceives that he cannot 
do this or that thing. For whatever a man conceives he cannot do, 
that he necessarily conceives, and by that notion he is so disposed 
that in truth he cannot do that which he conceives he cannot do. 
For so long as he conceives that he cannot do a thing, so long is his 
action not determined to that thing ; and therefore so long is it 
impossible that he should do it. But now if we consider such things 
as depend merely on opinion, we can conceive how it may be that a 
man should think too meanly of himself. It may happen that a 
man in sorrow, while he considers his own infirmity, imagines that he 
is despised by everybody ; and this while other men have nothing 
less in their thoughts than despising him. Again, a man may think 
too meanly of himself if he deny somewhat of himself with regard 
to a future time whereof he is uncertain ; as if he should suppose 
that he can have no certain conceptions, or can desire and perform 
nothing but wicked and base things, and the like. Again we may say 
that a man thinks too meanly of himself when we see that for exceed 
ing fear of shame he will not adventure what others being his equals 
will. Thus we have an emotion fit to be opposed to pride, which I 
shall call dejection. For as pride is bred of self-contentment, so is 
dejection of humility ; and accordingly we define it thus : 

29. Dejection (abiectio] is to think too meanly of oneself by 
reason of displeasure. 

Explanation. Nevertheless pride is wont to be opposed to 
humility : but then we consider the effects of them rather than their 
nature. We call that man proud, who boasts exceedingly (see Prop. 
30, Schol.), who talks of nothing but excellence in himself and faults 
in others, who would fain have precedence of all others, and who 
affects the dignity and apparel used by those whose estate is much 
above his own. Whereas we call him humble, who often blushes, who 


confesses his own faults and tells of other men s excellence, who gives 
place to all men, and who is of a downcast carriage and negligent 
of his apparel. Howbeit these emotions, I say humility and dejec 
tion, are very scarce. For man s nature, considered in itself, strives 
against them with all its power (see Propp. 15 and 54) ; and hence 
those who pass for being most downcast and humble are oftentimes 
the most self-seeking and envious. 

30. Honour (gloria) is pleasure accompanied by the idea of some 
action of our own which we suppose to be praised by others. 

31. Shame is pain accompanied by the idea of some action which 
we suppose to be blamed by others. 

Explanation. As to these see the Scholium to Prop. 30 of this 
Part. I shall here observe the difference between shame and 
modesty. Shame is the pain following a deed whereof one is ashamed ; 
but modesty is the apprehension or fear of shame, whereby a man is 
restrained from any disgraceful action. To modesty is commonly 
opposed shamelessness, which is in truth not an emotion, as I shall 
show in due place. But the names of the emotions, as I have 
already noted, go more to their application than to their nature. 
Thus much of the emotions of pleasure and pain, which I have now 
expounded as I purposed : and I go on to those which I ascribe to 

32. Regret is the desire or appetite of possessing something, which 
is nourished by the remembrance of that thing, and at the same 
time checked by the remembrance of other things which exclude the 
existence of the thing so desired. 

Explanation. When we remember anything, (as we have often 
said before), this of itself disposeth us to regard the thing with the 
same emotion as if it were actually present. But this disposition or 
effect, at least in waking hours, is mostly constrained by ideas of 
things which exclude the existence of the thing remembered by us. 
When therefore we remember a thing which affects us with any sort 
of pleasure, we at once endeavour to regard it with the same emotion 
of pleasure as if it were present ; and this endeavour is thereupon 
restrained by the remembrance of things which exclude its existence. 
Wherefore regret is in truth a pain opposite to that pleasure which 
arises from the absence of a thing we hate, as to which see Prop. 
47, Schol. But since the name of regret seemeth to have regard to 
desire, I reckon this emotion among those of desire. 

33. Emulation is the desire of something excited in us by our 
conception that others have the like desire. 


Explanation. When one runs away at seeing others run or fears 
at seeing others fear, or on seeing that another hath burnt his hand, 
draws in his own hand and moves as if his own hand were burnt, we 
say that he imitates the emotion of the other, but not that he 
emulates him : not because we know of any difference between the 
causes of emulation and of imitation, but because use will so have it 
that we speak of emulation only in him who imitates what he deems 
honourable, useful, or agreeable, As for the cause of emulation, see 
Prop. 2 7 of this Part and the Scholium. And why this emotion doth 
mostly go in couples with envy, see Prop. 32 with the Scholium 

34. Thankfulness or gratitude is a desire or bent prompted by 
love, whereby we endeavour to do good to him who has conferred 
benefit on us in the like disposition. See Prop. 39, with the [first] 
Scholium to Prop. 41 of this Part. 

35. Benevolence is the desire of doing good to one whom we 
pity. See Prop. 27, Schol. [2]. 1 

36. Anger is a desire whereby we are impelled through hatred to 
do ill to one whom we hate. See Prop. 39. 

3 7. Revenge is a desire whereby we are stirred up through mutual 
hatred to do ill to one who hath done ill to us with the like disposi 
tion. See Prop. 40, Coroll. 2, and the Scholium thereon. 

38. Cruelty or barbarity (saevitia) is the desire whereby any one 
is impelled to do evil to one whom we love or pity. 

Explanation. To cruelty is opposed clemency, which is not a 
passion, but the power of the mind whereby a man restrains anger 
and revenge. 

39. Fear is the desire of avoiding at the cost of a lesser evil a 
greater one which we apprehend. See Prop. 39, Schol. 

40. Daring is a desire whereby one is impelled to do somewhat 
attended with a danger which his peers are afraid to undergo. 

41. Cowardice is ascribed to him whose desire is checked by the 
fear of a danger which his peers dare to undergo . 

Explanation. Cowardice therefore is naught else than the fear of 
an evil which most men are not wont to fear ; for which cause I 
reckon it not with the emotions of desire. Yet I have chosen to 
explain it here, because, in so far as we attend to the desire, there 
is a true opposition betwixt it and daring. 

42. Consternation is ascribed to him whose desire to avoid evil 
is checked by amazement at the evil he fears. 

1 Quoted above, p. 228, note. 


Explanation. Consternation is therefore a kind of cowardice. 
But since consternation is bred of a double fear, it may be more con 
veniently defined as fear which holds a man in such bewilderment or 
distraction that he cannot remove the evil from him. I say bewilder 
ment, so far as we understand his desire to remove the evil to be 
checked by amazement. And I say distraction, in so far as we con 
ceive the same desire to be checked by the fear of another ill which 
equally vexeth him : whereby it comes to pass that he knows not 
against which of the two to defend himself. See the Scholia to 
Propp. 39 and 52. As to cowardice and daring, see Prop. 51, Schol. 

43. Civility or deference (humanitas seu modestid] is the desire of 
doing what pleaseth men and omitting what displeaseth them. 

44. Ambition is an immoderate desire for honour. 
Explanation. Ambition is a desire whereby all the emotions are 

nourished and fortified (by Prop. 27 and 31 of this Part) ; and there 
fore this emotion can scarce be overcome. For so long as a man is 
holden by any desire, he is of necessity holden by this withal. * The 
more a man excels, saith Cicero, the more is he led by honour : yea 
the philosophers write books of despising honour and glory, and set 
their names to them. 

45. Luxury is unrestrained desire or love (which you will) of 

46. Drunkenness is unrestrained desire and love of drinking. 

47. Avarice is unrestrained desire and love of wealth. 

48. Lust is in the like manner desire and love in bodily inter 

Explanation. Whether this last desire be restrained or not, it is 
commonly called lust. And these five emotions as noted in the 
Schol. to Prop. 56) have no contraries. For deference is itself a kind 
of ambition, as to which see Prop. 29, Schol. For temperance, sober 
ness, and chastity, I have already noted of these also that they express 
not a passion but a power of the mind. And though it may be that an 
avaricious, ambitious, or timid man shall abstain from excess in these 
kinds, yet avarice, ambition, and fear are not contraries to luxury, drunk 
enness, or lust. 1 For an avaricious man is oftentimes eager to stuff 
himself with food and drink at another man s charges. An ambitious 
man, so long as he hopes it may be hid, will stint himself in nothing ; 
indeed, if he live in drunken and debauched company, his ambition 
will but make him the more prone to those vices. As for the timid 

Castitati in the Latin text by an obvious slip. 


man, he doth what he would not. For though a miser should cast 
his wealth into the sea to escape death, yet he is a miser still ; and 
so if a lustful man is grieved that he cannot follow his bent, he ceases 
not thereby to be lustful. And in general these emotions regard not 
so much the acts of feasting, drinking, and so forth, as the inward 
appetite and liking. So that nothing can be opposed to these 
emotions but high-mindedness and valour (generositatem et animosita- 
tem], whereof more presently. 1 

The definitions of jealousy and other perturbations of the mind I 
pass over in silence, as well because they spring from the compound 
ing of the emotions already denned, as because they mostly have no 
special names ; which is a sign that for the uses of life it sufficeth to 
have a general knowledge of them. And it is established from those 
definitions of the emotions which we have expounded that they all 
have their rise from Desire, Pleasure, or Pain ; or rather that there 
be none beside these three, every one whereof is wont to be called by 
divers names after the divers presentments and tokens of them in 
outward operation. Considering these primitive emotions and that 
which we have above said of the nature of the mind, we may now 
thus define the emotions, so far as they have regard to the mind 


EMOTION, which is called a passion (pathema) of the soul, is a con 
fused idea whereby the mind affirms a greater or less faculty of exist 
ence 2 in its body or some part thereof than it had before, and on 
the occurrence of which the mind itself is determined to think on one 
thing more than another. 

Explanation. First, I say that emotion or passion in the soul is a 

confused idea. For we have shown (Prop. 3 of this Part) that the mind 

suffers only so far as it hath inadequate or confused ideas. Next, I 

say whereby the mind affirms a greater or less power of existence in 

i its body or some part thereof than it had before. For all ideas of 

i [other] bodies which we have denote rather the existing disposition 

1 Cp. Prop. 59 of this Part, Schol. Animositas and generositas are the two 
species of fortitude. Per animositatem intelligo cupiditatem qua unusquisque 

( conatur suum esse ex solo rationis dictamine conservare. Per generositatem autem 
cupiditatem intelligo qua unusquisque ex solo rationis dictamine conatur reliquos 
homines iuvare et sibi amicitia iungere. 

2 Existendi vis really means neither more nor less than existentia. See p. 218, 

R 2 


of our own body than the nature of the external body (Part 2, Prop. 
1 6, Cor. 2). But the idea wherein an emotion really consists must 
denote or express the disposition of the body or some part there 
of, because the body s active power or faculty of existing is increased or 
diminished, forwarded or hindered. It is to be observed that when I 
say a greater or less faculty of existence than before, I intend not 
that the mind compares the present disposition of the body with a 
past one, but that the idea wherein the being of the emotion doth 
consist affirms of the body something which in fact involves more or 
less of reality than before. And since the nature of the mind consists 
in this, that it affirms the real present existence of its body (Part 2, 
Prop, ii and 13) and we mean by perfection the nature of the thing 
itself; hence it follows that the mind passes to a greater or less perfec 
tion when it happens to it to affirm somewhat of its body or some part 
thereof which involves more or less of reality than before. When 
therefore I said above that the mind s power of thinking is increased 
or diminished, I desired to have only this meaning, that the mind 
formed an idea of its own body or some part thereof which expressed 
more or less reality than it had formerly affirmed of the same body. 
For the dignity of ideas and the present power of thinking are 
measured by the dignity of the object. Lastly I have added : and 
on the occurrence of which the mind itself is determined to think on 
one thing more than another/ that besides the nature of pleasure and 
pain, which the first part of the definition explains, I might also 
express that of desire. 




Derm alle Kraft dringt vorwarts in die Weite, 

Zu leben und zu wirken hier und dort ; 
Dagegen engt und hemmt von jeder Seite 

Der Strom der Welt und reisst uns mit sich fort ; 
In diesem innern Sturm und aussern Streite 

Vernimmt der Geist ein schwer verstanden Wort : 
Von der Gewalt, die alle Wesen bindet, 
Befreit der Mensch sich, der sich iiberwindet. 

GOETHE, Die Geheimnisse. 

Once read thy own breast right, 

And thou hast done with fears ; 
Man gets no other light, 

Search he a thousand years. 
Sink in thyself! there ask what ails thee, at that shrine. 

MATTHEW ARNOLD, Empedocles on Etna. 

HAVING concluded his purely scientific analysis of the springs 
of action and passion, Spinoza proceeds to expound in the 
fourth Part of the Ethics the slavery of man, or the power of 
the emotions. In a short preface he explains the notions of 
good and evil, as he conceives them. 

When a man hath determined to make something and brought 
the same to pass, not only that man himself will call his work perfect, 
but also every one that rightly knows or conceives himself to know 
the mind and aim which the author of that work had. For example, 
if a man shall see a particular work (which I assume to be not yet 
finished) and knows that the aim of its author is to build a house, he 
will call the house imperfect, but contrariwise perfect whenever he 
sees the work brought to the end which its author proposed to make 
of it. But if a man sees a work the like whereof he hath never seen, 


nor knows the mind of the workman, tis plain he cannot tell whether 
that work be perfect or not. 

A sentence, one may remark in passing, which deserves 
much meditation on the part of those who discuss natural 
theology, but has been before the world these two centuries 
without producing much result : and if we pause awhile to 
discuss the idea contained in it the digression will be less than 
it seems. For on this depends Spinoza s view of ethical good 
and evil, and consequently his whole theory of ethics. 

The argument from design in all its common forms, and 
most of the obvious objections to it, proceed on the assump 
tion that we have some independent knowledge of what the 
designs of nature are or may be expected to be. What we 
find in nature, especially animated nature, is fitness in various 
degrees for various purposes ; organs of sense for example, 
ranging from a rudimentary state in the lower animals to the 
delicate and complex apparatus possessed by the highest. To 
say that this comes of design, and that the particular degree of 
fitness was designed in each case, is a pure assumption as far 
as the evidence of nature goes. I speak of degrees of fitness ; 
for to talk of absolute fitness in nature, as popular teleology 
does or recently did, is merely to disregard the facts. Every 
thing that exists is indeed in one sense the fittest possible ; 
since if it were not so, it would not be the thing existing then 
and there, but the place would be filled by something else 
which was fitter under the given conditions. In other words, 
existence is not a bare fact but a continuing process, and at 
every moment of the process the particular set of conditions 
has one and only one possible result. This was long ago seen 
in a general way by Hume, and has been fixed as a distinct 
scientific conception by Mr. Darwin s discovery of it in a most 
important and striking concrete form. But if we assume a par 
ticular designed purpose, as seeing in the case of the eye, and 
inquire if the means are as perfect as they conceivably might 
be, we shall generally if not always find that they are not. 


Thus the human eye, considered as an optical instrument, has 
more than one grave defect : and the human ankle-joint is 
inconveniently weak in proportion to the strain thrown upon it 
by man s erect attitude in standing and walking. If, again, we 
say that the greatest fitness under given conditions is equiva 
lent to absolute fitness, and is in fact the standard of perfec 
tion in human workmanship, it must be observed that in the 
case of human workmanship we know that the workman did 
not make his conditions : or, if there be conditions as to which 
we are uncertain how far they were within his control, we 
suspend our judgment as to the part of his work affected 
by them. Now in the case of the universe we have not this 
knowledge, and the suspense of judgment must needs be in 
definite. We cannot separate the work from the conditions. 
In order to arrive at any final judgment we ought to know 
whether the conditions themselves were given with any and 
what design, and if so, whether or not subject to other condi 
tions. And thus the inquiry would become endless, and we 
should never have anything solid to show for it. In short, 
the frame of nature is what it is, neither more nor less. If we 
believe it to be the work of an extremely powerful being, of 
intelligence and activities more or less analogous to our own, 
then we must also believe that it was and is intended to be 
just what it is. What inferences of any practical value could 
be drawn from that conclusion is rather too wide a question 
to be taken in the course of a digression. Some of those which 
might be drawn by an observer confining himself strictly to 
the evidence would be as follows : that if the being in question 
took any pleasure in his operations, it could only be the purely 
intellectual pleasure of working out a set of fixed rules, which 
he might possibly be supposed to have fixed by his own choice 
with that pleasure in view ; that he had no conception of pain, 
and was therefore regardless of the amount of it that might 
be involved in executing the grand scheme of the universe 
(for one would not gratuitously ascribe malice to him) ; and 


that if that scheme had any ulterior object, it was not the 
happiness of living creatures generally or of any particular 
species of them. These inferences, however, are not such as 
expounders of natural theology either desire or profess to 
arrive at ; and, as I do not myself attach any particular validity 
to the assumptions on which they would depend, it seems 
needless to dwell on them. 

But now let us assume that we believe in design on 
independent grounds. Will this take us much farther ? We 
still cannot criticize the works of nature by the analogy of the 
productions of human art without knowing to what extent 
the objects and conditions are similar : we shall therefore still 
find ourselves in the same condition of absolute suspense. If 
we take it as known from other sources that the universe is a 
work of perfect wisdom and goodness, and perfectly adapted 
to fulfil some purpose which does not appear on the face of 
things, and which we can only partly understand, then we 
have after a sort an account of the whole matter. But it is 
an account which the witness of nature itself cannot either 
add to or confirm in any way. Detailed criticism and 
detailed apologies for such is the tone of modern natural 
theology at times are alike in the air, or rather in vacua. 
It is not uncommon to speak of the wastefulness of nature as 
if it were something requiring an excuse. But why is it 
esteemed a merit in human operations to effect the desired 
result with the least possible expenditure of work and 
materials ? Plainly because the available work and materials 
are limited. If the resources of the universe were at one s 
disposal, there would be no occasion for economy. So far as 
we can form any expectation in the matter, we might 
reasonably expect a magnified human intelligence command- f 
ing all the powers of nature to be at least as wasteful as 
nature actually is. The stability or instability of the exist 
ing order of nature cannot, in like manner, be judged perfect 
or imperfect unless we know whether or not the order was 


Intended to be permanent. It was an accepted opinion till 
very lately that the solar system was a self-maintaining and 
self- compensating machine which, if left to itself, would go 
on for ever. And, strangely enough, it was commonly held 
by the same persons who extolled this as a perfection that 
the solar system, or at any rate the part of it inhabited by 
mankind, was intended to last only a few thousand years, 
and at the end of that time to be destroyed. On their 
assumptions the designer of the solar system acted like a 
builder who should put a stone house where a wooden shed 
would have done as well : unless, indeed, it were a mere 
display of magnificence like that of a barbaric prince at 
whose command whole palaces rise for the service of a day s 
festival, and are swept away with all their ornaments when 
the feast is over. For precisely the same reasons, it would be 
absurd to say that the instability now discovered by science 
in the constitution of the solar system is any mark of imper 
fection. And if we believe that we have evidence or pre 
sumption from other quarters of a design tending to the 
dissolution of the present state of nature, then it is quite fair 
to speculate on the physical means (imperfect vortex-atoms 
or the like) by which it might be carried out. Again, a 
designer may be limited in his choice of means either by 
external conditions or by some reason of his own ; and of 
these conditions or reasons the spectator may know nothing. 
In the case of the sensible world and its order it is certain 
(apart from supernatural information) that we know nothing 
of them whatever. All our ideas of design and perfection are 
derived from the efforts of man, a finite being, working for 
definite objects and with such instruments as he can procure : 
and the attempt to find something answering to them in the 
constitution of the universe leads to nothing but insoluble 
perplexities. All this was most clearly seen by Spinoza, and 
the mastery of his conceptions, whether learnt from himself 
or from some other teacher, is the first condition of any free 


and rational treatment of the questions which beset the 
boundaries of our positive knowledge. I do not mean that it 
is necessary to accept Spinoza s ideas, but that it is necessary 
to know of their existence and to understand them. 

The primary meaning of such terms as perfect and imper 
fect is according to Spinoza not only relative, but relative to 
the accomplishment of some particular design. But the 
formation of general ideas leads men to take their general 
idea of a species or kind as a standard, and regard every de 
parture from it as an imperfection. And this way of think 
ing and speaking is applied indiscriminately to natural and to 
artificial productions, though we cannot ascribe design, or 
therefore apply any test of perfection in this sense, to nature 
as a whole. 

For that eternal and infinite being which we call God or nature 
acts by the same necessity wherewith it exists . . . so that the reason 
or cause why God or nature acts, and why he exists, is one and the 
same. As therefore he exists not for the sake of any end, so he acts 
for the sake of none ; but hath as well of existing as of acting no 
beginning nor end. That which is called a final cause is nothing but 
the desire of man itself, considered as the origin or primary cause 
of anything. As when we say that to be inhabited was the final 
cause of this or that house, then tis plain we understand merely this, 
that a man having conceived in his mind the conveniency of dwelling 
in a house, was thereupon desirous to build it. 

Perfection and imperfection, then, are relative notions or 
ways of thinking, dependent on our classification and com 
parison of things. If we try to apply them on a universal 
scale, the only class-notion remaining with us for the purpose 
is the genus generalissimum of mere being, and we must mea 
sure perfection by amount of being or reality. Thus Spinoza 
explains his own former definition of perfection as identical 
with reality. 1 And apparently he regards it, or tends in this 
place to regard it, as only a particular aspect of things to 

1 Eth, ii. def. 6. 


finite minds that one should appear to have plus entitatis 
seu realitatis than another. But on this he is not explicit. 

The ethical notions of good and evil are the notions of 
perfection and imperfection, as applied to human character 
and conduct by means of a normal idea or standard of man. 
That the terms are in themselves relative is obvious. 

Music is good for a melancholic patient, bad for a man in grief ; 
for a deaf man it is neither good nor bad. But though this be so, 
yet these words are to be kept in use. For since we desire to form 
an idea of man as a type of human nature to be set before us, it 
will be convenient to keep these words in the sense I have mentioned. 
By good I shall therefore understand hereafter that which we are 
assured is a means for approaching more and more nearly to the 
pattern of human nature we set before ourselves ; and by evil that 
which we are assured is a hindrance to our copying of the same pattern. 
Further, we shall speak of men as more or less perfect, as they 
approach this pattern more or less nearly. 

Some definitions follow, of which we need only say that, 
by a distinction now first introduced, a contingent thing is 
defined as that which is not known to be necessary or impos 
sible in respect of itself, or which we can equally well conceive 
to exist or not to exist ; a possible thing as one not known to 
be necessary or impossible in respect of its conditions, or as 
to which we do not know if the conditions required for its 
production are fulfilled. There is a single axiom : No par 
ticular thing is found in nature which is not exceeded in 
power and strength by some other : but whatsoever thing be 
taken, another more powerful can be found, whereby the first 
may be destroyed. 

Man is a part of nature ; his powers are limited and sub 
ject to be overmastered by external causes. On external 
causes, too, depends the strength of human passions ; for pas 
sion is the modification of the mind under an external cause 
Hence flows a proposition of the first practical importance, 
that emotion cannot be controlled or removed, save by a 


contrary emotion stronger than that which is to be controlled. l 
Repeatedly one is led to marvel at Spinoza s critics, and ask 
oneself if they really have read him : and here one stops to 
doubt whether this most true and pregnant statement can 
ever have been considered by those who represent Spinoza as 
a framer of mere intellectual puzzles, having no root in the 
deeper part of man s feelings. It is not insignificant that the 
proof, which however would not add much to the conviction 
of a modern reader, is in form physiological. Hence know 
ledge, as such, is incompetent to restrain the passions : it 
can have that effect only in so far as it is an emotion. 2 
And in fact knowledge of good or evil is in the nature of 
pleasure or pain ; for it is by reference to supposed utility, 
which involves reference to pleasure and pain, that we deter 
mine any particular thing to be good or evil. Thus the 
knowledge of good and evil is nothing else than an emotion 
of pleasure or pain, in so far as we are conscious thereof. 
Observe that this knowledge, or in English it would be better 
to say judgment, is not as yet assumed to be correct Or, if 
we say that pleasure as such is always good, and pain as such 
always bad, which Spinoza does say later (Pr. 41 of this Part), 
we may affirm that an immediate judgment of good or evil is 
correct in itself, but not necessarily so with regard to concomi 
tants and consequences. But even if we have a true judgment 
(ucra boni et malt cognitio] the emotion produced by it may 
not prevail over other emotions conflicting with it. For emo 
tion due to a present exciting cause is, other things being 
equal, stronger than that which proceeds from contemplation 
of something distant in time or place : and so memory and 
expectation are themselves more intense in proportion to the 
nearness of their objects ; unless indeed the remoteness in 
time of the different objects compared be such that for our 
imagination both are practically infinite. 3 Again, that which 
we conceive as necessary affects us more strongly than that 

1 Eth. iv. 7. 2 Prop I4 3 p ropt 9j I0> 


which is conceived as possible or contingent. In this and 
other ways the desires arising from a true knowledge of good 
and evil may be restrained or suppressed by others arising 
from divers contrary emotions. And in particular the desire 
arising from the knowledge of good and evil, so far as this 
knowledge has regard to the future, may easily be constrained 
or extinguished by the desire of things which are agreeable 
in the present. l Hence the weakness of human nature and 
the difficulty of obeying the dictates of reason ; hence the 
danger of wrong-doing in the face of knowledge, whereof the 
Preacher said, He that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow. 
We see that Spinoza felt profoundly and acutely the need of 
understanding being touched with emotion before it can 
bring forth the fruit of good living. But his purpose is not to 
discourage men from well-doing. 

This I say not for any such purpose as to conclude that ignor 
ance is to be chosen before knowledge, or that a fool and a man of 
understanding differ nothing as to the control of their passions ; but 
because it is needful to know as well the power as the weakness of 
our nature, that we may determine what reason can and cannot do 
in controlling the passions. And in this part, as I have promised, 
I shall treat only of human weakness. For of the power of reason 
over the passions I am minded to treat apart. 2 

Leaving it, then, for future consideration how the power 
of following reason is to be acquired, Spinoza proceeds to set 
forth what the precepts of reason are. He begins with a sum 
mary introduction which gives the leading ideas of his ethical 
system in a wonderfully short compass. 

Since reason demands nothing against nature, it therefore 
demands that every man do love himself, seek his own interest (I 
mean that which is truly so), and desire whatsoever truly leads a man 
to greater perfection ; and generally that every man endeavour, so far 
as in him lies, to maintain his own being. And this is as necessary a 
truth as that the whole is greater than its part. Then forasmuch as 
virtue is nothing else than acting by the proper laws of one s own 

f; 1 Prop. 1 6. 2 p r0 p j^ Schol. 


nature, and no man endeavours to maintain his own being otherwise 
than by those laws : it follows in the first place that the foundation 
of virtue is this very endeavour, and that happiness doth consist in 
a man s having power to maintain his own being. Secondly it follows 
that virtue is to be desired for its own sake, and nothing prefer 
able or more useful can be found for whose sake it should be desired. 
And thirdly, it follows that men who kill themselves are infirm of 
mind, and merely overcome by external causes repugnant to their 
own nature. l Again, it follows from the fourth postulate of the second 
Part 2 that we never can bring it to pass that we need nothing outside 
us to maintain our being, or live without any conversation with 
things that are outside us ; and if moreover we consider our own 
mind, our understanding would surely be less perfect if the mind 
were alone and understood not anything beyond itself. Thus there be 
many things outside us, which are useful for us and therefore to be de 
sired. Among these none more excellent can be thought of than such 
as wholly agree with our own nature : since if two individuals of the 
same nature are joined together, they make a new individual twice as 
powerful as either. Nothing, therefore, is so useful to man as man ; 
nothing more excellent, I say, can be sought by men towards main 
taining their being than that all should so agree in all things as that 
the minds and bodies of all should make up as it were one mind and 
one body, and all together strive to maintain their being to the best 
of their power, and all together seek the common interest of all. 
Hence it follows that men who are governed by reason, or who seek 
their own interest after the guidance of reason, desire nothing for 
themselves which they desire not for other men ; and therefore also 
they be just, faithful, and honourable. 

This is given expressly as a short preliminary sketch, in 
order to obviate the prejudices of those who might be disposed 
to think that this principle, namely, that every man s duty is 
to seek his own interest, is the beginning of wickedness, and 
not of virtue and righteousness. But the outlines of an 
ethical system are quite distinctly laid down ; and we may 
conveniently pause here to notice the singular resemblance to 

1 It is difficult to see why a point of detail like this should be made so pro 
minent. Can Spinoza have been thinking of Uriel Da Costa ? 

The human body has need for its maintenance of many other bodies, 
whereby it is constantly as it were refashioned. 


Stoic doctrine. A life according to reason, which consists in 
following out the law of one s own nature, or self-preservation 
in the fullest sense, was precisely that which the Stoics aimed 
at. What they meant by following nature, however vague 
the phrase appears in itself, is the same that Spinoza means 
by suum esse conservare. It is the putting forth and main 
tenance of the activities proper to the individual and the species. 
With them no less than with Spinoza self-conservation was 
the ultimate spring of action. 

For them, likewise, it is a fundamental axiom that only 
in the society of his fellow-men can man effectually preserve 
his being, fulfil the law of his specific welfare, or, as they said, 
follow nature. Both. the Stoics and Spinoza seem to treat 
the social character of man as a fact of common experience 
not open to contradiction and requiring no proof. Their 
morality is so far egoistic that they admit as a first principle 
that every man must seek his own welfare. But it is not 
selfish ; for the very first of their mediate axioms is the con 
tradiction of selfishness. The first condition of a man s wel 
fare is the welfare of the society of which he is a part, or, as 
the Stoics said, a limb. Practical morality is therefore not 
individual but social, and the reasonable man can find his 
own weal only by pursuing the common weal and doing good 
to his fellow-men. 

There are other points of coincidence, for example the 
determinism which is hardly less prominent in the Stoics 
than in Spinoza, and the stress laid on the active nature of 
virtue. On the other hand there are great differences in the 
general philosophical bases of the two systems. The Stoics 
were devoted adherents of teleology, which Spinoza wholly 
rejects ; and to follow nature was to them the same thing as 
to follow reason, because they held nature, both in its general 
constitution and in specific forms, to be eminently reasonable. 
Spinoza could not speak of following Nature as they did, 
though he speaks with them of following reason, and coin- 


cides with Stoic language even in the detail of ascribing free 
dom as a special honourable attribute to the wise or reason 
able man. * The wise man alone is free, and the fool is a 
slave was one of the famous Stoic paradoxes : a paradox 
for this reason, that wisdom in the Stoic sense is an ideal 
state of passionless perfection which hardly anyone attains, 
and whoever has not attained this wisdom is yet in the outer 
darkness of folly. A form of speech like this might easily 
have been picked up by Spinoza from Horace or Cicero ; but 
as to the deeper resemblances, I do not think they are to be 
ascribed to imitation, for the very reason that they go so far 
down. It is certain that Spinoza s acquaintance with Greek 
philosophy was superficial ; anything he knew of the Stoics 
must have been at second-hand, and the resemblances in 
question have much more the air of being due to independent 
work on parallel lines than of being derived from second-hand 
information. One very characteristic point of Spinoza s 
ethical theory, the doctrine that emotion can be controlled 
only by emotion, is entirely absent from the teaching of the 
Stoics. They trust to pure reason to furnish not only light 
but heat and motive power, thus ignoring the strength and 
bondage of the passions, the affectuum vires on which 
Spinoza so minutely and pitilessly dwells. The difference 
may not be of great practical importance if we compare the 
two systems as working systems of morality, in which point 
of view they seem almost identical. For the mental disci 
pline and contemplation recommended by the Stoics are of a 
kind well fitted to produce the moral emotion required by 
Spinoza and all the best modern moralists as a necessary 
condition of righteousness, or rather the constant reserve of 
moral emotion which we call a moral temper. And, if the 
disposition be produced, it matters little for practical purposes 
whether it finds its due place in the scientific account of the 
process given by the teachers. This temper of moral devo 
tion, if one may so call it, and the means of maintaining it, 


were indeed recognized as of importance ; for example, they 
are not unfrequently considered by Marcus Aurelius ; but 
these reflexions go side by side with positive statements that 
the mere knowledge of good and evil suffices to overcome 
evil impulses; or in other words that vice is nothing but 

The scientific advance of Spinoza s doctrine upon this is 
very great, and is of itself enough to establish his independent 
merit. 1 

The following propositions, in which Spinoza works out 
the doctrines briefly sketched in the passage last translated, 
fall into four groups. 

The first deals with self-maintenance as the foundation of 
virtue (Prop. 19-25) : the second with intelligence as the 
foundation of ethical judgment (26-28) : the third with the 
common nature and interests of men as the ground of social 
ethics (29-37) : the fourth considers in detail what bodily and 
mental affections are good or bad with reference to man s 
common weal, and herein of the conduct and duties of the 
reasonable man (38-73) : lastly, the ethical maxims are 
collected and restated in an Appendix. 

First, the self-maintaining activity is the foundation of 
virtue. For virtue is active power, and power is the affirma 
tion of the agent s existence. Living must come before living 
well, and no man can desire a virtuous life without also 
desiring life itself. Virtuous action, as such (ex virtute 
absolute agere), is in us nothing else than to act, live, or main 
tain one s own being (these three are all one) according to 
reason and on the footing of seeking our own interest. 2 

Now the self-affirmation of the mind is understanding, 
since the proper nature of the human mind is to understand : 
so that the self-maintaining endeavour which is the begin- 

1 On the resemblance and contrast between Spinoza and the Stoics, compare 
Trendelenburg, Histor. Heilrage, iii. 396-397. 

2 Prop. 24. 



ning of virtue is an endeavour after understanding. Hence 
good is whatever helps the understanding, evil whatever 
hinders it ; and the highest good is the knowledge of God, 
the most complete object of knowledge and the condition of 
all other knowledge and existence. To know God (in other 
words to know the order of nature and regard the universe 
as orderly) is the highest function of the mind : and know 
ledge, as the perfect form of the mind s normal activity, is 
good for its own sake and not as a means. 

The attempt to reduce the proper nature and function of 
the mind to pure intelligence, which is made in Pr. 26, is open 
to much criticism. It depends on the doctrine that all real 
action is a function of intellect (Part 3, Pr. 3) : but even 
assuming this, the self-maintaining effort of the mind qua- 
tenus ratiocinatur is briefly taken as equivalent to and in 
volving the maintenance or welfare of the whole man. The 
supremacy of reason is insufficiently explained and not 
proved at all. Spinoza s position here is no doubt connected 
with the Peripatetic theory of the active intellect, and pre 
pares the way for the peculiar developments of the fifth Part 
of the Ethics. 

The next group of propositions leads up to the social 
grounds of morality by a chain of formal proof which is more 
ingenious than convincing, and seems not even formally invul 
nerable. For instance, commune aliquid nobiscum in Prop. 
29 appears to be used in a different sense from cum nostra 
natura commune in Prop. 30: and Prop. 30 is difficult to follow. 
It is easy to understand the position of Prop. 29, that we can 
not be affected for good or harm by anything which has not 
commune aliquid nobiscum : e.g. bodily hurt must be in 
flicted by a material body. But how then can we say with 
Prop. 30 that a thing is never hurtful per id quod cum nos 
tra natura commune habet ? One human body may hurt 
another very much, by knocking it down or otherwise. If 
we say that this depends not on the assailing body being 


human, but on its being a solid body, the common properties 
of matter still remain: A runs against B and hurts himself: 
it is true he might have hurt himself as much or more by 
running against a post. But in any case the properties of 
mass and impenetrability are common to A s body and B s, 
and are of the essence of the hurt that follows. For if parts 
of A s body and B s could be in the same place at once, there 
would be no resistance, no violent compression of the collid 
ing parts, and no hurt. Or if natura includes, as it probably 
does, the amount and distribution of energy in the particular 
material system affected (cp. Prop. 39), still the difference or 
incongruousness between the disturbed system and the 
external body is not of kind but of degree. There is still 
aliquid commune. I think it must be allowed that Spinoza s 
way of talking of natura in this and similar passages is not 
free from residual entanglements of scholasticism. 

Spinoza s object is to show that men disagree only in so 
far as they are swayed by passion, and agree in so far as they 
are governed by reason. Passion being an infirmity or nega 
tion, men cannot be said to agree in it ; just as it is an abuse 
of language to say that white and black are similar in not 
being red. The counter-proposition that in so far as. men 
live according to reason, they always and necessarily agree, 
is supported by an appeal to experience which is more satis 
factory than the formal reasoning. 

Experience likewise bears witness to our proposition every day, 
so clearly and abundantly that it is a common speech, that man is 
as a God to man. Yet it seldom happens that men live according 
to reason ; but such is their fashion that they mostly bear ill will and 
do mischief to one another. Nevertheless they cannot endure a life 
of solitude, so that the definition of man as a social animal hath been 
in general approved : as indeed it is the truth of the matter that far 
more convenience than hurt arises from the common fellowship of 
men ; (i.e. even when they do not live according to reason). Where 
fore let the satirists make sport of human affairs as much as they will ; 
let theologians decry them ; let misanthropes do their utmost to 

s 2 


extol a rude and churlish life, despising men, and admiring the 
brutes : yet men shall find that their needs are much best satisfied 
by mutual help, and that only by joining their strength they can 
escape the dangers that everywhere beset them ; not to say how much 
more excellent it is and worthy of our knowledge to consider the 
actions of men than of beasts. ] 

Passages of this kind give to Spinoza s system- strange 
as this may appear to such as know it only at second-hand 
the character of a morality of common sense : and herein he 
shows an affinity to Aristotle s cast of thought which in this 
particular place is conspicuous. The position that good men 
are naturally friends, and that theirs is the best and only 
durable friendship, is dwelt upon with some fulness in the 
Eighth Book of the Nicomachean Ethics. 2 And Aristotle 
calls to witness the ordinary experience of reasonable men in 
very much the same way as Spinoza. In this case imitation 
or. derivation is wholly out of the question : Spinoza knew 
Aristotle only in the distorted version given by so-called 
Aristotelian philosophy. The work of restoring Aristotle 
to his true place has hardly been effected even yet : in Spi 
noza s time it had not been begun. 

Spinoza goes on to show that the highest good aimed at 
by virtuous or reasonable men is common to all and may be 
equally enjoyed by all, and that the virtuous man desires the 
same good for his fellows as for himself : 3 and he lays down 
in outline the foundations of civil society and law. His posi 
tion, expressed in modern language, would be that society is 
antecedent to law ; that legal right and wrong can exist only 
with reference to a government, and moral right and wrong 
only with reference to a community. The form in which he 
states it, however, is that every one exists by an absolute 
natural right, and pursues by the same right whatever he 
supposes to be his own interest. If all men lived according 

1 Pr. 35, Schol. 

2 Cap. 3, sqq. I am indebted for this parallel to Prof. Land. 

3 Pr. 36, 37. 


to reason, their desires and pursuits would never clash, and 
the summum naturae ius would suffice them without further 
definition. But, since in fact men are subject to passions, 
and one man s desires are incompatible with another s, they 
can live together and form a society only on the footing of 
mutual concession. This concession is guaranteed by the 
common authority of the society, operating not by reason 
(for the passions can be restrained only by stronger passion) 
but by the fear of penalties. The course of living prescribed 
by the community under the sanction of a penalty is law : 
and the community thus established by laws and the power 
of self-maintenance is called a state, and those who are within 
its protection citizens. Good and ill desert, justice and 
injustice, depend on the political order and exist only in the 
political or social state, * where it is ordained by common con 
sent what is good and bad, and every man is bound to obey 
the civil authority. 

In the state of nature no man is owner of anything by common 
consent, nor does anything exist which can be said to be one man s 
more than another s ; but all things are all men s, and thus in the 
state of nature we cannot conceive any purpose of giving every man 
his own, 1 nor yet of depriving any one of that which is his : that is, 
nothing done in the state of nature can be called either just or unjust. 
This becomes possible only in the civil state, where it is ordained by 
common consent what belongs to this and to that man. 

Here we have a first sketch of Spinoza s theory of law and 
politics, which coincides in the main with that of Hobbes, and 
so anticipates in its broad features the analysis adopted and 
developed by the later English school of jurisprudence. In 
this place however it is meagrely and not quite opportunely 
presented, and is not seen to advantage. One is struck by 
the capital omission to distinguish in any way between posi 
tive civil law, custom, and what we now call positive morality. 

1 Voluntas unicuique suum tribuendi : alluding to the familiar definition of 
justice in the civil law (iustitia est constans et perpetua voluntas ius suum cuique 
tribuens, I. i. i). 


The obvious fact that moral wrong-doing extends far beyond 
disobedience to the civil law, which leaves untouched many 
things commonly judged worthy of the strongest moral disap 
probation, appears to be simply ignored. In order to make 
Spinoza s account complete even in outline on its own ground 
and from its own point of view, we need the conception of 
positive morality as a kind of informal law which aims at 
governing conduct in a particular society, and acts through 
the sanctions of collective approbation and disapprobation, 
being administered not by any set tribunal or officers, but by 
the members of the community at large. But on these points 
we need not dwell at present. 

Next comes the consideration in detail of what things are 
useful and hurtful to man s common estate. In the first place, 
everything is useful which tends to preserve life, or, as Spinoza 
puts it in the language of his Cartesian physics and phy 
siology, whatever tends to preserve the proportion of motion 
and rest subsisting betwixt the parts of the human body is 
good ; and contrariwise that is bad which tends to alter the 
same proportion : l the specific and individual character of 
any body whatever being considered as resulting from the 
mutual communication of motion among its particles in a cer 
tain definite proportion. The destruction or change of cha 
racter consequent on the disturbance of this proportion in a 
living body is however not necessarily equivalent to death in 
the ordinary sense. 

I am not so bold as to deny, adds Spinoza in the Scholium, * that 
a human body, keeping the circulation of the blood and other pro 
perties which are esteemed the marks of life, may nevertheless 
receive another nature wholly different from its former one. For no 
reason compels me to hold that the body dies not unless it become 
a corpse ; nay experience would seem to suggest the contrary. It 
sometimes befalls a man to surfer such change as that I would scarce 
call him the same, as I have heard tell of a Spanish poet, who having 
been seized with great sickness and recovered therefrom, yet was left 
1 Pr. 39, referring to Def. in the Excursus after Pr. 13, part 2. 


so forgetful of his past life that he believed not the plays he had writ 
to be his own, and might indeed have been held for a grown-up child 
if he had forgotten his mother-tongue as well. And if this appear 
incredible, what shall we say of infants, whom a man of ripe age 
thinks to be so unlike himself in kind that he could never be per 
suaded he had been such himself, did he not apply to himself the 
analogy of other men ? But lest I should afford occasion to super 
stitious persons for raising novel questions, I shall leave these matters 

This is the whole of Spinoza s contribution to the vexed 
question of personal identity, which he seems to regard (and 
rightly so from the scientific point of view) as at best merely 
curious. In an equally general but simpler proposition which 
immediately precedes this one l it is laid down that such 
things are good as increase the capacity of the human body 
to receive impressions from without and to impress its own 
action on outw r ard things. For the manifold and various 
adaptation of the body is likewise an adaptation of the mind 
and increases its power of knowledge. Pleasure as such is 
good, since it tends to increase of active power, and pain as 
such is bad. 2 But localized pleasure (titillatio) may be bad 
as interfering unduly with the activity of other parts and 
of the body as a whole ; and a pain which serves to control 
this local excess of pleasure may be good. Love and desire 
may, for the same cause, be excessive and unreasonable. 
Hatred is never good ; for it aims at the destruction of our 
fellow-man ; and the same consequence holds of all the emo 
tions derived from it, such as envy, derision, contempt, anger. 
Here a very interesting Scholium is added. 

Between derision and laughter I mark a great difference. For 
laughter, like jesting, is mere pleasure ; and therefore is in itself 
good, so it be not excessive. Surely tis but an ill-favoured and sour 
superstition that forbids rejoicing. For why is it a better deed to 
quench thirst and hunger than to drive out melancholy ? This is 

1 Pr. 38. 

2 Laetitia directe mala non est, sed bona ; tristitia autem contra directe est 
mala. Pr. 41. 


my way of life, and thus have I attuned my mind. No deity, nor 
any one but an envious churl, hath delight in my infirmity and incon 
venience, nor reckons towards our virtues weeping, sobs, fear, and 
other such matters which are tokens of a feeble mind ; but con- 
trariwise the more we are moved with pleasure, the more we pass 
to greater perfection, that is, the more must we needs partake of the 
divine nature. Therefore it is the wise man s part to use the world 
and delight himself in it as he best may, not indeed to satiety, for 
that is no delight A wise man, I say, will recruit and refresh him 
self with temperate and pleasant meat and drink, yea and with 
perfumes, the fair prospect of green woods, apparel, music, sports 
and exercises, stage-plays and the like, which every man may enjoy 
without any harm to his neighbour. For the human body is com 
pounded of very many parts different of kind, which ever stand in 
need of new and various nourishment, that the whole body alike may 
be fit for all actions incident to its kind, and that by consequence 
the mind may be equally fit for apprehending many things at once. l 

If at a former passage we were tempted to call Spinoza a 
Stoic, we shall perhaps be tempted now to call him an Epi 
curean. Here is none of the Stoic disdain for the common 
amenities of life, no artificial striving to visit them with indif 
ference or discredit, no attempt to make a virtue of dispensing 
with them. Let us remember that the speaker is one who did 
in his own person largely dispense with them, and whose life 
was not only temperate, but quiet and frugal in the extreme. 
This is not the apology of a man of the world for his careless 
living, but the grave unrepining approval of innocent pleasures 
by a student debarred by his own circumstances from sharing 
in many of them. Nor does he approve them simply because 
they are pleasant, but as tending to a high purpose, the many- 
sided culture of body and mind. Yet the pursuits and enjoy 
ments he mentions are simple and familiar ones, such as are 
more or less within the reach of every one above -absolute 
poverty, and such as at this day naturally present themselves 
to an observer in most civilized countries. England, unhap 
pily, is the one land where Spinoza s lesson falls most strangely 

1 Prop. 45, Schol. 


on the ears of good and well-meaning men and is most sorely 
needed. In truth the need is a crying one, and we are only 
beginning to learn that rational recreation is a thing worth 
studying. But perhaps we shall hardly give ear to Spinoza 
in this matter while we refuse to profit by the living example 
of our nearest neighbours and kinsfolk. After all it may be 
best that we should go farther back yet and learn of the 
Greeks, who first and most perfectly discovered the worth and 
dignity of human life. We can say nothing better or greater 
of Spinoza s doctrine in this passage than that he unconsciously 

There is something touching in the thought of this man, 
weak in body, of slender estate, living by sedentary toil and 
giving his leisure to philosophy, thus reconstructing for him 
self the Athenian ideal of a free and joyous life, in which the 
pursuit of beauty is chastened by wisdom and temperance, 
while wisdom itself is informed with the delight of a fine art, 
and contemplation goes hand in hand with the manhood and 
active fellowship of citizens. If it be said that this ideal fails 
to include the strenuous and self-denying aspects of virtue, 
the proposition is at least doubtful ; but for the present it 
suffices to say that Spinoza at all events prescribes a canon 
of conduct as lofty and unselfish as any moral teacher of 
ancient or modern times. Not that in Spinoza s view any 
virtue is really self-denying : for the denial and restraint of 
the unruly passions and of all that we call selfish is the 
strengthening and affirmation of man s true self. But let us 
hear his next precept. 

He who lives according to reason endeavours to the utmost of 
his power to outweigh another man s hate, anger or despite against 
him with love or high-mindedness. ... He who chooses to avenge 
wrong by requiting it with hatred is assuredly miserable. But he 
who strives to cast out hatred by love may fight his fight in joy and 
confidence ; he can withstand many foes as easily as one, and is in 
nowise beholden to fortune for aid. As for those he doth conquer, 


they yield to him joyfully, and that not because their strength faileth, 
but because it is increased. 1 

The ethical value of the specific emotions is assigned on 
the principle that only those are good which spring from the 
active and rational part of man s nature. Hope and fear, since 
they involve pain, are good only so far as they may check the 
excess of other passions (Pr. 47). Pity, for the same reason, 
is in itself worse than useless, and will be shunned by the 
reasonable man (Pr. 50). Spinoza is careful to explain in 
what sense he means this, which in fact is the sense in which 
the Stoics laid down similar rules. 

A man who rightly knows that everything follows from the 
necessity of God s being and happens according to the eternal laws 
of nature will in truth find nothing worthy of hate, mockery, or 
contempt, nor will he pity any one ; but, so much as human power 
admits, he will endeavour to do well, as they say, and be of good 
cheer. Moreover it is to be noted that he who is lightly touched 
with the passion of pity and moved by the distress or tears of another 
often doth somewhat of the which he afterwards repents ; because as 
well we do nothing out of passion which we surely know to be good, 
as we are easily deceived by feigned lamentations. But 2 in this 
place I particularly intend a man who lives according to reason. 
For one who is moved neither by reason nor by pity to help others 
is justly called inhuman, since he acts as if he had no likeness to 

In like manner humility and repentance, though not 
part of the reasonable man s character, are relatively useful, 
and necessary for the government of mankind. Since men 
must err, it is better they should err on the side of submission 
than on that of pride and violence. This admission of a scale 
of relative merit as between passions and motives which in 
themselves are all alike unworthy of the reasonable man may 
remind us of certain features in the Stoic system, though the 

1 Prop. 46, and Schol. 

2 Perhaps we should read atqid for atque. The Dutch version omits the con 
junction altogether. 


analogy is not exact. On the other hand the emotions which 
can be purely active, as goodwill (favor), self-contentment 
(acquiescentia in se ipso\ honour (gloria}, may have a reason 
able origin and be positively good. And generally every 
activity to which we are -determined by an emotion in the 
nature of passion may be determined in us by reason without 
such emotion (Pr. 59). No particular action is in itself either 
good or bad, and therefore every particular action may in some 
conceivable circumstances be induced by reason. The act of 
striking, for instance, is in itself the lifting of the arm, closing 
of the fist, and forcible bringing down of the arm ; and, consi 
dered as a physical action, it is a manifestation of the power 
or excellence proper to the human body (virtus quae ex 
carports humani fabrica concipitur). But the act may be 
performed for an infinite variety of purposes, lawful or un 
lawful, wise or foolish. The attitude and movements of 
Hamlet playing in good faith are the same as those of Laertes 
with his poisoned rapier. Cicero s hand wrote consummate 
prose with the same motion and characters as worthless verse. 

So, if a man that is moved with anger or hate is thereby deter 
mined to close his fist or move his arm, this happens (as we showed 
in the second part) because one and the same action may be joined 
with any sort of images of things ; and thus we may be determined 
as well by images of things we conceive confusedly, as by those we 
conceive clearly and distinctly, to one and the same action. It 
appears therefore that every desire arising from an emotion of the 
passionate kind would be of no utility if men could be led by reason. 

In other words, reason and the active emotions related to it 
afford an adequate motive for every reasonably desirable act : 
but such motives will be effective only so far as the man to 
whom they are presented is reasonable. 

One reason of desire being irrational, or not regarding the 
interest of the agent as a whole, is its proceeding from local 
pleasure or pain ; and since pleasure is mostly referred to 
some one part of the body, we mostly exercise the desire to 


maintain our being without taking any thought of our health 
as a whole. Another reason is the undue preponderance of 
the present over the future in our most common desires. 1 
This however does not occur when the mind is guided by 
reason in its judgments ; for then it conceives things under 
the form of eternity or necessity, and facts are regarded in 
their true relations and independent of their being past, 
present or future. Hence, in so far as we act reasonably, we 
choose not only the greater of two goods and the lesser of 
two evils, but a greater good in the future before a lesser in 
the present, and a lesser evil in the present which is to be 
outweighed by a greater good in the future. 2 In this group 
of propositions it is also pointed out that reasonable action is 
never produced by fear : under reasonable desire we seek the 
good directly and avoid evil indirectly. . . . This is illus 
trated by the case of a sick and a healthy man. The sick 
man eats what he dislikes for fear of death ; but the whole 
man enjoys his food and so hath better use of life than if he 
feared death and had an immediate desire of avoiding it. So 
the judge, when he sentences a criminal to death not from 
hate or anger, but merely for love toward the public weal, is 
led by reason alone. (Pr. 63, schol. 2). 

This part of the Ethics is now brought to a close by an 
enunciation of the qualities of the reasonable, or, as Spinoza 
now puts it with the Stoics, the free man. Here his proposi 
tions assume the nature of aphorisms ; they cannot be con 
sidered strictly capable of proof, and that which stands first, 
one of the noblest and most weighty sayings ever uttered, 
seems to foreshadow the more daring flights of the succeeding 
book. Yet, if we regard it as a precept for use in life, it is on 
a scientific view of man s nature as just and reasonable as it is 

1 Pr. 60, and Schol. 

* Pr. 62, 65, 66. In Pr. 66, malum praesens minus quod causa est futuri 
[futura ed. Bruder by misprint] alicuius mali is obviously corrupt. The con 
temporary Dutch translator appears to have read maioris boni, which may be ac 
cepted as a practically certain correction (NageL Schriften, p. 244). 


morally elevating ; and the demonstration offered by Spinoza 
is extremely simple. 

A free man thinks of death least of all things, and his wisdom is 
a meditation not of death but of life. 

Demonstr. A free man, that is, one who lives only by tie bidding 
of reason, is not led by the fear of death, but immediately desires 
good ; that is, to act, to live, and maintain his own being on the 
footing of seeking his true interest. And therefore he thinks of no 
thing less than of death, and his wisdom is a meditation of life ; 
which was to be proved. (Pr. 67.) 


If men were born free, they would, so long as they were free, 
form no notion of good and evil. (Pr. 68.) 

This depends on a foregoing proposition (64) that the 
knowledge of evil is necessarily inadequate ; and it seems to 
be a direct reminiscence of Maimonides, who says (More 
Nebuchim, c. 2) that Adam before the Fall had a true 
intellectual comprehension and knew nothing of probable 
opinion, to which the categories of good and evil belong. By 
the unfallen intellect things were distinguished not as good 
and evil, but only as true and false. Spinoza gives in a 
Scholium a not dissimilar interpretation of the Mosaic 
history, and endeavours incidentally to find authority in it 
for various points of his psychology. To what extent he was 
serious in this must be left to every reader s conjecture ; but 
it is quite possible that he was really disposed, after the 
example abundantly set by Maimonides and others, to 
regard the legends of Genesis as elaborate philosophical 

The statement that only free men are perfectly grateful 
to one another, which has already been thrown out in 
general terms, is now given as a formal proposition (Pr. 71): 
there seems to be a play on the meaning of the adjective 
which is rather more natural in Latin than in English. On 
the other hand (Pr. 70), a free man whose conversation is 


among the ignorant will avoid receiving favours from them ; 
for he cannot please them except by requiting them after 
their own manner with such things as are good in their 
conceit. But the desire of the free man is to seek both for 
himself and for other men only that which is pointed out as 
good by reason. Therefore the free man, that he may 
neither come into ill repute with the ignorant, nor follow their 
appetites instead of holding to reason only, will endeavour, 
so far as he may, to eschew favour from them. But Spinoza 
is careful to add a word of explanation to show that he does 
not counsel a cynical and unsociable reserve. I say so far 
as he may. For though men be ignorant, yet they are men, 
and in our necessary occasions can give a man s help, than 
which nothing is more excellent. And therefore it often 
happens to be of necessity to receive some favour from them, 
and by consequence to return thanks to them after their own 
fashion. Moreover a certain caution must be observed in the 
act of declining favours, lest we seem to despise men, or to 
be so avaricious that we fear having to recompense them, 
and thus fall into giving ground of offence by our very care 
to avoid it. So that in declining favours regard must be had 
to expediency and good manners. 

Again the free man never acts fraudulently, but always in 
. good faith ; and this is laid down as an universal proposition 
applicable even to extreme cases (Pr. 72). Lastly the reason 
able man finds true and perfect freedom not in a solitary 
independence but in living in society and under a common 
law with his fellow-men (Pr. 73). It is considered unneces 
sary to follow out in detail the character of the wise or, as he 
is now called, the strong man. That he will hate no man, 
have no anger, envy, or contempt for any one, and be free 
from pride, easily follows from the general propositions 
already given as to the conditions of social and reasonable 
life. Spinoza now proceeds to collect the precepts of right 
living already stated or implied in various parts of his 


argument into a more compact form. This appendix is as 

Cap. i. All our endeavours or desires so follow of necessity from 
our nature that they may be understood either by that nature alone 
as their immediate cause, or only by regarding ourselves as a part of 
nature, which cannot be adequately conceived by itself apart from 
other particular things. 

C. 2. The desires which follow from our nature in such wise that 
they may be understood by it alone are those which are ascribed 
to the mind in so far as it is conceived as consisting of adequate 
ideas ; but other desires are ascribed to the mind only in so far as it 
conceives things inadequately, and their strength and increase must 
be denned not by the power of man but by the power of things out 
side us. And therefore the former are justly called actions, the latter 
passions. For the former ever denote our power, the latter our im 
potence and maimed knowledge. 

C. 3. Our actions (that is, those desires which be determined by 
man s power or by reason) are always good ; the rest may be either 
good or bad. 

C. 4. It is therefore of exceeding use in life to perfect, so far as 
we can, the understanding or reason, and herein alone consisteth the 
highest happiness or blessedness of man. Blessedness, indeed, is 
nothing else than the contentment of mind arising from the intuitive 
knowledge of God. And to perfect the understanding is nothing 
else than to understand God and the attributes of God, and the actions 
that necessarily follow from his nature. Wherefore the final aim of a 
man led by reason, that is, the chief desire whereby he seeks to 
govern all others, is that which makes for the adequate conception 
both of himself and of all things which be subjects of his intelli 

C. 5. There is therefore no reasonable life without intelligence, and 
things are good only in so far as they help man to enjoy that spiritual 
life which the name of intelligence doth signify. And those things 
which hinder man from perfecting his reason and enjoying the 
rational life are alone by us called evil. 

C. 6. Now because all things whereof man is the sole efficient 
cause are necessarily good, no evil can happen to man save by out 
ward causes ; to wit, inasmuch as man is a part of nature, whose 
laws his nature is bound to obey, and he to accommodate himself to 
her in almost infinite ways. 


C. 7. And it cannot be otherwise than that man should be a part 
of nature and follow her common order ; but if his conversation be 
with such creatures as agree with his own nature, thereby man s 
active power will be holpen and fostered. Contrariwise if he be 
among those whose nature agrees not with his own, he will scarce be 
able to accommodate himself to them without some great change in 

C. 8. Whatsoever is found in nature which we judge to be evil, 
or to be capable of hindering our existence and enjoyment of life in 
reason, that we may repel from ourselves by whatever way seems the 
safer. And whatever is found on the other hand which we judge 
good or useful for the maintenance of our being and enjoyment of 
life in reason, that we may take and convert to our own use as we 
will. And generally every one hath an absolute natural right of 
doing what he judgeth to make for his own advantage. 

C. 9. Nothing can agree better with the nature of any particular 
thing than other individuals of the same kind. Therefore (by cap. 7) 
there is nothing more useful to man for the maintenance of his being 
and enjoyment of rational life than a man who governs himself by 
reason. Again, since among particular things we know of none more 
excellent than a man who governs himself by reason, therefore a man 
can in no way better show the power of his skill and understanding 
than in so training up men that at last they may live as true subjects 
under the dominion of reason. 

C. 10. So far as men bear to one another envy or any emotion 
derived from hate, they are contrary to one another ; and are 
therefore to be feared in proportion to the excess of their power over 
that of other creatures. 

C. T i. Yet minds are conquered not by force of arms, but by love 
and highmindedness. 

C. 12. It is of exceeding use to men to enter upon acquaintance 
and so bind themselves together that they may the better make 
themselves all one power, and generally to do such things as are 
fitted to establish friendship. 

C. 13. But for this they need skill and vigilance. For men 
be of many minds (seeing few of them live as reason prescribes), and 
yet are mostly envious and more prone to revenge than to pity. So 
that to endure every man s humour and restrain oneself from copy 
ing their passions is a matter of no small resolution. Yet those who 
rather chide men and rebuke their faults than teach them virtue, and 
can break their spirits, but not strengthen them, are grievous both 


to themselves and others. Thus many have been driven by their 
overmuch impatience or misguided zeal for religion to live with 
brutes rather than men ; as boys and lads who cannot quietly bear to 
be scolded by their parents will go for soldiers, and choose the hard 
ships of war and a tyrannical discipline rather than convenience at 
home and a father s counsel withal, and suffer any burden to be put 
upon them if only they may spite their parents. 

C. 14. Therefore although men for the most part carry every 
thing after their own fancies, yet from their common fellowship there 
ensues far more convenience than harm. So it is the better part to 
bear wrong from them with an even mind, and be diligent in whatever 
is fitted to bring about concord and friendship. 

C. 15. That which begetteth concord is that which belongs to 
justice, equity, and good report. For, besides what is unjust and 
iniquitous, men are also displeased with what is in ill repute, or when 
a man doth reject the usage received in their commonwealth. And 
for winning their love those things be chiefly necessary which have 
regard to religion and piety. 

[Reference is made to previous propositions as to these terms. 
Religion is the sum of desires and actions proceeding from the idea or 
knowledge of God, i.e. from the conception of the order of nature 
as one and uniform. Piety is the desire of well-doing produced by 
living according to reason. Pr. 37, Schol. i.] 

C. 1 6. Concord is also commonly produced by fear ; but this is 
treacherous. Also fear ariseth from a weakness of the mind and 
therefore belongs not to the exercise of reason ; and the same holds 
of compassion, though it hath on the face of it a certain show of 

C. 17. Men are likewise overcome by liberality, chiefly those 
who have not wherewithal to buy the necessaries of life. But help 
ing every one in need is far beyond the means and convenience of 
any private person. For a private man s wealth is no match for such 
a demand. Also a single man s opportunities are too narrow for him 
to contract friendship with all. Wherefore providing for the poor is a 
duty that falls on the whole community and has regard only to the 
common interest. 

C. 1 8. In receiving favours and the return of gratitude there is a 
material distinction, as to which see the Scholia to Pr. 70 and 71. 

[That is, the reasonable man endeavours to decline favours from 
the ignorant which would place him under embarrassing obligations 



but between free men there is a free and unrestrained affection, apart 
from and above any question of returning or recompensing favours.] 
C. 19. Meretricious love, that is, the lust of generation which 
ariseth from outward beauty, and in general every kind of love that 
hath any cause beside freedom of mind, doth easily pass into hate, 
unless (which is worse) it be a kind of madness ; and then more 
discord than concord grows of it. See the Coroll. to Pr. 31, Part 3. 
C. 20. As concerning marriage, tis certain that it agrees with 
reason if the desire of bodily union is bred not merely of outward 
sense but of the desire to beget children and bring them up in 
wisdom ; and also if the love of both parties, namely the man and 
the woman, has not outward sense alone for its cause, but freedom 
of mind in the chief place. 

C. 21. Concord is also produced by flattery ; but this is at the cost 
of vile slavishness or falsehood. None are more easily taken with 
flattery than the proud ones, who fain would be first, and are not. 

C. 22. Dejection hath a false show of piety and religion. And 
though dejection be contrary to pride, yet is the downcast man very 
near being proud. See Schol. to Pr. 57. 

C. 23. Likewise concord is advanced by shame, but only in 
things which cannot be hid. Also because shame is in itself a kind 
of pain it belongs not to the exercise of reason. 

C. 24. The other emotions of pain towards men are plainly 
against justice, equity, good report, piety and religion. And though 
indignation hath on the face of it a show of equity, yet life is but law 
less where any man may pass judgment on another s deeds and vindi 
cate his own or another s right. 

C. 25. Civility (modestia), that is, a desire of pleasing men which 
is determined by reason, is referred (as we said in the Schol. to Pr. 
37) to piety. But if it arise from passion l it is ambition, a desire 
whereby men do mostly stir up strife and tumults under the pretence 
of piety. A man who desires to help others by counsel or deed, so 
as thiey may together enjoy the chief good, will be very forward to 
win their love to him, but not to draw them into admiration of him, 
that a doctrine may be called after his name, nor in any manner to 
give cause of offence. Also in common talk he will eschew telling 
of men s faults, and will speak but sparingly of human weakness. 
But he will speak at large of man s virtue and power, and the means 
of perfecting the same, that thus men may endeavour, not from fear 

1 AJfectu : but Spinoza must mean affectu qui passio csf. 


or disgust, but wholly in joyfulness, to live, so far as in them lies, 
after the commandment of reason. 

C. 26. Except men we know of no particular thing in nature, in 
whose mind we may take pleasure and which we may join to our 
selves by friendship or any manner of society ; and therefore what 
ever there is beside men in the world the reason of our convenience 
doth not require us to preserve, but persuades us according to the 
divers uses thereof to preserve, destroy, or adapt it to our own use 
as we will. 

C. 27. The utility we derive from things outside us is (besides 
the experience and knowledge we acquire from observing them and 
changing them from one form into another) in the first place the con 
servation of our body. And in this regard those things are chiefly 
useful which can so feed and nourish the body as to make all its 
parts fit for their proper offices. For the better fitted the body is to 
be impressed and to impress outward bodies in divers ways the more fit 
is the mind for thinking. (See Propp. 38 and 39.) But of this kind 
there seem to be very few things in nature. Wherefore for nourish 
ing the body as it needs we must use many foods of different kinds : 
the human body being indeed made up of very many parts of 
different kinds, which be in need of constant and manifold nourish 
ment, that the body may be equally fit for performing all things which 
are within its natural power, and consequently that the mind may 
also be equally fit for perceiving many different things. 

C. 28. Now for achieving this the strength of every man would 
scarce avail unless men lent one another their help. But money has 
given us a token for everything. Whence it happens, that the 
imagination thereof doth mainly busy the minds of the common 
sort ; for they can scarce imagine any kind of pleasure without 
having withal the idea of money as its cause. 

C. 29. This is the fault only of them who seek money not from 
poverty nor for their needs, but because they have learnt arts of gain 
and make a mighty show with them. Tis true they tend their bodies 
by habit ; but scantily, since they esteem themselves to be losing so 
much of their goods as they spend on maintaining their own bodies. 
But they who know the right use of money and fix the measure of 
wealth only according to need can live contented with a little. 

C. 30. Since then those things are good which assist the mem 
bers of the body to perform their office, and pleasure consists in 
this, that the power of man, in so far as he is composed of body and 
mind, is advanced or increased ; therefore all things be good which 

T 2 


bring us pleasure. Yet since things operate not for any such purpose 
as to give us pleasure, nor is their power of action limited according 
to our convenience, and also because pleasure is mostly related to 
some one part of the body above the rest ; therefore most emotions 
of pleasure are subject to excess, unless reason be on guard, and 
consequently so are the desires engendered of them. Besides all 
which emotion leads us to count that first which is agreeable in the 
present, and we cannot consider things future with a proportionate 
liveliness. See the Scholia to Pr. 44 and Pr. 60. 

C. 31. But superstition seemeth contrariwise to hold that for 
good which brings pain, and that for evil which brings pleasure. 
But, as we have said, (Schol. to Pr. 45) only an envious man can 
take any delight in my weakness and inconvenience. For the 
greater is our pleasure the more do we pass to greater perfection, and 
therefore the more do we partake of the divine nature ; nor can 
pleasure ever be bad, when it is governed by a just regard for our 
interest as a whole. But he who is led by fear and doth good only 
to avoid toil is not led by reason. 

C. 32. Now man s power is very much confined, and is infinitely 
surpassed by the power of external causes ; and therefore we have 
not any absolute power of converting to our own use things outside 
us. Yet we shall bear with an even mind that which happens to us 
against the conditions of our own advantage if we are aware that we 
have done our part of the business, and that the power we possess 
could not have gone so far as to avoid those evils ; and that we are 
a part of the whole order of nature and bound thereby. Which if we 
clearly and distinctly understand, that part of us which is described 
as intelligence^ that is, our better part, will therein be wholly contented 
and will endeavour to persist in that content. For so far as we 
understand, we can desire nothing but what is necessary, nor can we 
rest content in aught but the truth ; and therefore so far as we under 
stand these things rightly, the endeavour of our better part agrees 
with the universal order of nature. 

This summary does not appear to call for any particular 
explanation. The equivalence of action, intelligence, and 
virtue, which stands out in the leading enunciations, has 
already been remarked on : the description of intelligence as 
our better part at the conclusion is of some importance as 
leading up to the doctrine of the following Part. Attention 


may be called to the moral elevation of the precept given in 
cap. 25. It is a lofty refinement of the fundamental duty of 
good will to men which is not to be found, so far as I know, 
in any other moralist. The tone is very like that of Marcus 
Aurelius, but I have not met with an exact parallel to the 
matter either in M. Aurelius or elsewhere. 




Nee pietas ullast velatum saepe videri 
vertier ad lapidem atque omnis accedere ad aras 
nee procumbere humi prostratum et pandere palmas 
ante deum delubra nee aras sanguine multo 
spargere quadrupedum nee votis nectere vota, 
sed mage pacata posse omnia mente tueri. 

LUCRETIUS : v. 1198. 

Je croi, dist Pantagruel, que toutes ames intellectives sont exemptes des 
ciseaulx d Atropos. RABELAIS : Pantagriiel, book iv. ch. xxvii. 

La raison triomphe de la mort, et travailler pour elle, c est travailler pour 
1 eternite. E. RENAN : Discours de reception, 3 avril, 1879. 

WITH the fourth Part of the Ethics it might appear at first 
sight that Spinoza s task was ended. He has laid bare the 
constituents of human motives and passions ; he has explained 
the working of these passions in the various circumstances of 
life ; he has contrasted the slave of passion with the reason 
able or free man, and has declared the precepts of righteous 
ness and goodwill. But he esteems his work only half done, 
and goes on to that which remains as to something he has 
been longing to take in hand. 

At length/ he says in the Preface to Part V., I pass on to the 
other division of my Ethics, concerning the method or path which 
leads us to freedom. And in this I shall treat of the power of reason, 
and show what is its native strength against the emotions, and thence 
what is the freedom or blessedness of the mind. Whence we shall 
see in how much better case is the wise man than the ignorant. 
But by what means and method the understanding is to be perfected, 
and by what skill the body is to be tended that it may truly do its 


office, pertains not to this inquiry ; for the latter of these is the con 
cern of medicine, the former of logic. 

The fact is that Spinoza s aim has throughout been prac 
tical. He has undertaken the scientific analysis of the pas 
sions, not without the pure curiosity of the man of science, but 
mainly to the end of showing how they may be mastered, and 
the conditions of man s happiness assured. In this he is 
at one with the Greeks, and particularly, as in many points 
before, with the Stoics. But Spinoza explicitly denies the 
Stoic assumption that the will has an absolute power over the 
emotions : a denial which, on comparison of his express con 
tradictions of Descartes, might be taken to imply an admis 
sion that in other ways the Stoic doctrine appeared to him 
profitable and worthy of respect. In the same passage he 
goes on to controvert the Cartesian theory of a connexion 
between the mind and the body through the pineal gland, by 
which Descartes endeavoured to show that there is no soul 
so feeble but that, being rightly trained, it may acquire an 
absolute dominion over its passions. Spinoza points out 
that the hypothesis of the pineal gland being the seat of con 
sciousness, transmitting impressions to the mind from without, 
and receiving orders from the mind which are sent on to the 
nerves of motion by means of the animal spirits, is contrary 
to Descartes own principles of scientific work ; introducing 
as it does assumptions more baseless and occult than any of 
the -scholastic occult qualities which Descartes rejected. He 
also remarks that Descartes did not and could not assign any 
mechanical measure of the alleged power of the mind to ini 
tiate or control the motions of this gland : in truth, will and 
motion being incommensurable, there is no comparison betwixt 
the power or force of the mind and the body : and therefore 
the force of the latter can in no wise be determined by that of 
the former. The physiological difficulties of the hypothesis 
are lightly touched on, but so as to show that Spinoza did not 
overlook them. In its" actual form this preliminary discussion 


is now chiefly interesting as a monument of the extraordinary 
hold the Cartesian philosophy must have acquired on that 
generation to make Spinoza thus go out of his way to re 
fute the most fantastic and untenable point of it. But the 
substance of Spinoza s argument remains applicable to the 
various quasi-materialist attempts that from time to time have 
been made, in the supposed interest of spiritual truth, to esta 
blish or make plausible some kind of physical communica 
tion between the mind and the brain. 

When we examine in detail what Spinoza has to say of 
the power of the understanding, or of Man s freedom, 1 we 
find that it consists of two independent parts. The first 
(Part V. of * Ethics to Prop. 20) is a consistent following out 
of the psychological method we have already become familiar 
with. The condition of mastering the emotions is shown to 
be a clear and distinct understanding of their nature and 
causes ; and the love of God which is nothing else than the 
rational contemplation of the order of the world, and of 
human nature as part thereof is described as the greatest 
happiness of man in this life, and the surest way of establish 
ing the rule of the understanding over the passions. Here 
again one might suppose, and with more reason than before, 
that nothing more remained to be set forth. But it is not so : 
Spinoza proceeds to lay before us a theory of intellectual im 
mortality, or rather eternity, the perfection whereof consists in 
an intellectual love of God which is likewise eternal, and is 
part of the infinite love wherewith God loves himself. This 
exposition, which takes up the fifth Part of the * Ethics from 
Prop. 21 onwards, presents great difficulties. It is by no 
means obvious, in the first place, what is Spinoza s real mean 
ing ; nor can we feel sure that any explanation is the right one 
until we have some probable account of the manner in which 
Spinoza reconciled the doctrine, as we may propose to read 

1 Title of Part V. 


it, with the rest of his own philosophy. And this latter pro 
blem is a yet harder one. 

The question has been evaded, as it seems to me, by most 
of those who have written on Spinoza. Critics who regard 
him as a transcendental dogmatist naturally feel no particular 
difficulty at this point : why should not Spinoza dogmatize 
about the eternity of the mind as well as about Substance and 
Attributes ? So they are content to give some abridgment or 
paraphrase of Spinoza s argument which in truth explains 
nothing. Others, led by their own prepossessions to disregard 
all the rules of historical and critical probability, have sought, 
in the face of Spinoza s express and repeated warnings, to make 
out that his theory is a doctrine of personal immortality in the 
ordinary sense, or some sense practically equivalent to it, only 
stated in an unusual way and supported by artificial reason 
ing. Some few, taking a view of the general meaning of 
Spinoza s philosophy similar to that which has been main 
tained in the foregoing chapters, have manfully striven to re 
duce this apparently eccentric part into scientific conformity 
to the main body. But they are forced to say either that 
Spinoza did not clearly know his own meaning, or that he did 
not succeed in saying what he meant, or that he deliberately 
said things he did not mean : none of which suppositions can 
be entertained by any serious and impartial reader of the 
Ethics except as a desperate remedy. For my part, I 
would rather confess myself baffled than help myself out by 
any one of them, especially the last : and in fact I long 
thought the obscurity of the last portion of the Ethics all 
but hopeless. 

The explanation I shall now put forward with the hope 
of throwing some light upon the historical affinities of this 
speculation, and its logical connexion with Spinoza s psy 
chology, is one that has occurred to me almost at the last 
moment, and after repeated consideration. 

It may be observed here, as a matter independent of any 


particular interpretation of Spinoza s thought, that there is 
some reason to believe that he was himself conscious of not 
standing on the firmest ground in this place. The proposi 
tions concerning the eternity of the mind seem to be carefully 
isolated from the rest : the love of God arising from clear and 
distinct self-knowledge (Prop. 15) is kept apart from the in 
tellectual love which is the privilege of the mind in its eternal 
quality (Prop. 33), though on almost any possible reading of 
Spinoza s theory the two must coincide ; and at the end 
Spinoza guards himself by showing that the validity of ethical 
motives and precepts is independent of the exalted doctrine 
he has just been setting forth (Prop. 41). In a writer so care 
ful and subtle indications of this kind are not to be neglected. 
I believe that Spinoza s argument was to himself satisfactory ; 
but it hangs, as I read it, on a very special point in his theory 
of knowledge, and it may well be that he saw the danger of 
its not being satisfactory to other people. Moreover I am 
inclined to think that Spinoza wished emphatically to dis 
claim any intention of relying on a supernatural or super 
sensible world for the foundations of ordinary virtue and 
morality. He puts his eternity of the mind as a kind of sup 
plemental speculation ; if we accept it, so much the better ; if 
not, the rest of his work will not be impaired. It might per 
haps be suggested that this series of propositions was in fact 
an afterthought. But conjectures of this kind are too uncer 
tain to be worth pursuing. 

Let us now turn to a connected survey of the book ; 
taking first in order, as it comes, the practical and fairly 
obvious part. The opening propositions, in which the con 
ditions of the mind s power of self-control are laid down, run 
as follows : 

i. As particular thoughts and ideas of things are arranged 
and connected in the mind, exactly so are bodily modifica 
tions or images of things arranged and connected in the 


(This is an immediate inference from the complete paral 
lelism of mind and body.) 

2. If we separate a disturbance or emotion of the mind 
from the thought of its outward cause, and associate it with 
other thoughts, then love or hatred towards that outward 
cause, as likewise the agitations arising from those emotions, 
will be destroyed. 

(For love and hate depend on the idea of the external 
cause being present.) 

3. That emotion which is a passion ceases to be passion 
as soon as we form a clear and distinct idea thereof. 

(For passion as such is a confused idea.) 

4. There is no modification of the body whereof we cannot 
form some clear and distinct conception. 

(For all bodies and affections of bodies have some proper 
ties in common, and our conceptions of these are adequate.) 

Hence it appears that it is more or less in every one s 
power to attain a clear understanding of his own nature, and 
to that extent to be superior to passion. So that the first 
precept of freedom may be thus expressed : Understand the 
passions that you may be master of them. Nay, the very 
emotions and desires that otherwise would be pernicious are 
converted to beneficial uses by the government of the under 
standing. For example, we have found man s nature to be 
such that he desires others to live after his own plan. And 
in a man not governed by reason this desire is the passion 
called ambition, which is little removed from pride ; whereas 
in the man who lives according to reason it is a virtue or 
activity, and is called piety. Such is the nature of the 
mind s power over the emotions. Of course it might equally 
be expressed in terms of the attribute of Extension, as a 
power of the body over the particular modifications of the 
organism which correspond to the emotions in consciousness. 
But, as Spinoza is here considering the emotions in their 
mental aspect as states of feeling, he naturally follows both 


convenience and common use in regarding the facts on the 
psychical rather than the physical side. This does not the least 
imply, as a hasty reader might think, that he loses sight of 
the physical side. If there is one canon of interpretation 
more important than another for the right understanding of 
Spinoza, it is that the physiological correlations of mental 
action are never overlooked by him for a moment, whatever 
his language may be. 

Next, how may this power of the mind be strengthened ? 
By conceiving all things as necessary ; for the knowledge of 
a thing as determined by definite causes tends to prevent us 
from fixing any emotion upon it (Pr. 5, 6). 

The more this knowledge of things as necessary is applied to 
particular things where of we have a distinct and lively imagination, 
the greater is this power of the mind over the emotions, as experience 
also doth bear witness. For we perceive sorrow for any possession 
that is lost to be abated whenever the man who hath lost it adviseth 
with himself that this possession could in no manner have been saved 
So likewise we see that no man pities a child because it cannot speak, 
walk, or reason, or because for so many years its life is in a manner 
unconscious. But if the more part of us were born grown up, and 
one here and there as a child, then who but would pity children ? 
since then we should regard the state of infancy not as a thing natural 
and necessary, but as a defect or fault in nature. And after this sort 
we might mark several other instances. (Pr. 6, Schol.) 

It is further pointed out that an emotion arising from 
rational contemplation, since it depends on constant and ever 
present facts in the order of nature, will be stronger, other 
things being equal, than emotions directed towards a par 
ticular absent object ; and that emotion is stronger in propor 
tion to the number of distinct exciting causes acting together 
to produce it. Then comes a proposition in the nature of 
practical application : 

So long as we are not disturbed by emotions contrary l to our 

1 Contrarii is omitted in the text of the Opp. Posth. It is tacitly supplied by 
the Dutch translator, and replaced in the text of Gfrorer s and Binder s edd. 


nature, we have the power of ordering and connecting the affections 
of the body in pursuance of the intellectual order. (Prop. 10.) 

Spinoza comments on this in a Scholium, which seems to 
mark a period in the discussion. It is of a very practical 
kind, and may strike the reader as not being original : in 
which case I would ask him to reflect that we have much 
reason to be thankful that in moral precepts intended for real 
use no great originality is either needful or practicable. The 
scientific discussion and explanation of morality is the task 
of philosophers. But morality itself is made by the commu 
nity of right-minded men, whether they happen to be philo 
sophers or not : and when we come to speak of the actual 
contents of morality and the conduct of life, the philosopher 
has little or no advantage over any other right-minded man 
beyond the habit of expressing himself in accurate language. 
No system of ethics can do more than organize the common 
moral sense of good men. Let us hear Spinoza, therefore, as 
one speaking to us in the name of us all. That which is 
spoken with the common voice and in the common name of 
man s conscience may well be common ; if it is not, we 
should strive to make it so. But it can never be common 

By this power of duly ordering and linking together the affections 
of our body we may bring it to pass that we be not easily wrought on 
by evil passions. For greater force is needed to control emotions 
ordered and linked according to the intellectual order than those 
which are uncertain and loose. Wherefore the best we can compass, 
so long as we have not a perfect knowledge of our emotions, is to lay 
put a method and settled rules of life, to commit these to memory, 
and constantly l to apply them to such particular cases as do com 
monly meet us in life, that so our imagination may be penetrated 
therewith, and we may ever have them at hand. We laid down, for 
example, among the precepts of life, that hatred should be conquered 
by love or high-mindedness, not repaid in kind. Now that this 

1 Continue : Spinoza was probably not ignorant of the classical usage of the 
word, but it would not suit this context. 


command of reason may always be ready for us at need, we should 
often think upon and consider the wrongs commonly done by men, 
and in what manner they are warded off by a noble mind. For thus 
we shall knit the image of a wrong done us to the imagination of 
this precept, and the precept will always be at hand when a wrong is 

offered us But we shall note that in ordering our thoughts 

and imaginations we are ever to attend to that which is good in a 
particular thing, that we may always be determined to action by an 
emotion of pleasure. For example, if one sees that he exceedeth in 
the pursuit of honour, let him think of the right use thereof, and for 
what purpose it is to be pursued, and by what means to be acquired ; 
not of the misuse and vanity of it, the inconstancy of mankind and 
the like, of which no man thinks except for infirmity of spirit. For 
with such thoughts do ambitious men most plague themselves, when 
they despair of attaining the station they are bent upon; and so 
venting their anger they would fain be thought philosophers. Tis 
certain that they are most greedy of honour who are loudest concern 
ing the misuse of it and the vanity of the world. Nor is this peculiar 
to the case of ambition, but it is common to all who meet with ill 
fortune and lack strength of mind. ... So he who endeavours to 
govern his emotions and desires purely by the love of freedom will 
strive, as best he may, to know the virtues and their causes, and to 
fill his mind with the joy which arises from the true knowledge of 
them j but in no wise to study men s faults, nor to flatter them and 
make merry with a false show of liberty. And whoever will dili 
gently observe and use these precepts (for they are not difficult), 
assuredly in a short space of time he will be able for the most part to 
guide his actions after the rule of reason. 

We are next introduced to the exercise of contemplative 
reason described as the love of God, which consists in the 
distinct understanding of one s own nature. There is no form 
or mode of knowledge which cannot be made to some extent 
clear and distinct ; in other words, referred to the idea of 
God, since without God nothing exists or can be conceived. 
Clear and distinct understanding of one s own nature involves 
pleasure, and this is accompanied by the idea of God ; and 
therefore the resulting emotion is love of God, and, being 
associated with every act of understanding, must hold the 
chief place in the mind that entertains it. God, on the other 


hand, is not subject to passion, not capable of pleasure or 
pain, and cannot properly be said to love or hate any one. 
Therefore, since we cannot desire that God should contradict 
his own nature and perfections, he who loves God cannot 
endeavour that God should love him in return. And this 
love of God is the chief good which men can seek under the 
guidance of reason ; it may be common to all men, and we 
can wish it for others as much as for ourselves. Thus it is 
not liable to be marred, like the common affections of men, 
by envy or jealousy. 1 

Here again there is a pause and a summing up. 

I have now collected, we read, all the remedies against the 
emotions, that is, everything that the mind considered in itself is 
capable of doing against them. Whence it appears that the power of 
the mind over the emotions consists, i. In actual knowledge of 
the emotions (see Schol. to Pr. 4 of this Part). 2. In the separation 
of the emotions from the thought of the external cause of which we 
have a confused imagination. 3. In respect of time, wherein those 
affections which have regard to things we understand overmatch 
those that have regard to things we conceive confusedly or brokenly 
(Prop. 7). 4. In the number of causes by which those affections are 
fostered that have regard to the universal properties of things or to 
God. (Prop. 9 and n.) 5. Finally in that order in which the mind 
can arrange and link together its own emotions/ 

Spinoza goes on to say that the mind s power consists 
in knowledge, considered not as freedom from error but as 
its natural and proper activity. Not absence of inadequate 
ideas, but preponderance of adequate ones, is the condition of 
mental health. Clear and distinct knowledge, more especially 
the third or intuitive kind, gives us the means of controlling 
the passions to such an extent that they have but an insigni 
ficant part in the mind : 

Likewise it engenders love towards an immutable and eternal 
being, truly within our reach ; which therefore can be sullied by none 
of the defects common to other kinds of love, but may constantly 

1 Propp. 1 1 -20. 


increase, and may possess the best part of the mind and thoroughly 
penetrate it. And herewith I have finished what concerns this 
present life. . . . And so it is time for me to pass on to other 
matters which belong to the duration of the mind without regard 
to the body. 

We are now on the threshold of the singular and difficult 
part of Spinoza s exposition. I shall begin by stating as 
clearly as I can what I conceive his meaning to have been. 
Next I shall point out what I believe to be the historical 
ancestry of his doctrine. Then I shall give the leading 
points of the argument in Spinoza s own words, or as nearly 
so as may be, and at the same time exhibit in detail, for any 
reader who cares to follow me so far, the manner in which I 
justify my interpretation. 

Whatever is known as part of the necessary order of 
nature, in other words exactly or scientifically, is said by 
Spinoza to be known under the form of eternity. And this 
is eminently true of the immediate knowledge which he calls 
the third kind. Now in every act of knowledge the mind is 
(in Spinoza s technical sense) the idea of a certain state of its 
own body ; and if we regard this as a knowledge of its own 
body (which I shall show that Spinoza does), the mind in 
contemplating things as necessary knows its own body under 
the form of eternity. But the knowing mind has a conscious 
ness or knowledge of itself which exactly corresponds to its 
knowledge of the body ; in Spinoza s language, it is the idea 
of itself as well as of the body. Therefore in all exact know 
ledge the mind knows itself under the form of eternity : 
that is to say, in every such act it is eternal, and knows itself 
as eternal. This eternity is not a persistence in time after the 
dissolution of the body, for it is not commensurable with time 
at all. And there is associated with it a state or quality of 
perfection called the intellectual love of God. This is not an 
emotion, since the emotion of pleasure . involves transition 
to greater perfection, and therefore a finite time ; but it is 


related to the emotion of love as the eternity of the mind is 
related to its existence in time in a particular act of know 
ledge. The intellectual love of man for God is part of the 
infinite intellectual love wherewith God loves himself; and 
the mind, together with whatsoever it knows under the form 
of eternity, is a link in an infinite chain of eternal beings, 
which all together make up the infinite mind of God. Reser 
ving the discussion of difficulties and the critical analysis of 
Spinoza s argument, let us endeavour to seize the points 
which stand out most distinctly in this daring flight of specu 
lation. The eternity of the human mind is a function of pure 
intellect, and depends on the mind s power and habit of exact 
knowledge. Its perfection goes along with the attainment of 
the most perfect kind of knowledge, and its degree is different 
in different individuals. It has no relation to time, and there 
fore is not a future life or continuance of personal conscious 
ness in the ordinary sense. At the same time it is in some 
sense individual ; the active and understanding mind is an 
eternal mode of thought which is part of the infinite intel 
lect, but is not lost in it. 

It seems to me that we cannot but trace in this a 
direct connexion with the Aristotelian doctrine of immortality 
taken up and developed by the Averroists in the middle ages. 
M. Kenan s warning is before my eyes : l but it is M. Renan 
himself who supplies us with the links that complete, as I 
submit, a sufficient chain of evidence. 

In various passages of Aristotle a doctrine of intellectual 
immortality is indicated rather than worked out. The passive 
or receptive elements of the mind are perishable ; only the 
active intellect (vovs nroirjTLKos), and the individual mind so 
far as it partakes thereof, are eternal and immortal. Whether 

1 Rechercher si Averroes pent revendiquer quelque chose dans le systeme du 
penseur d Amsterdam, ce serait depasser la limite ou doit s arreter, dans les 
questions de filiation de systemes, une juste curiosite : ce serait vouloir retrouver 
la trace du ruisseau quand il s est perdu dans la prairie. Averroes et VAverroisme, 
2d ed. p. 199. 



this active intellect is only the sum of similar elements in 
individual minds, that by virtue of which the mind is rational 
in each case, or is to be regarded as having a permanent 
existence beside and beyond the minds of individual men, is 
a point not altogether free from doubt in Aristotle himself. 
The commentators resolved and developed the question in 
various ways. Ibn-Roshd (Averroes) appears to have consi 
dered the active intellect as being independent of this and 
that man s individuality, and of one substance in all men, 
but existing only in individual men : a unity realized and re 
flected in the multiplicity of finite minds. In any case, the 
personal immortality of the individual is excluded by the 
Averroistic doctrine. The active intellect is immortal, either 
in itself or as embodied in the human race which is mortal 
only as regards individuals : this and that soul can be im 
mortal only so far as they have part in the active intellect ; 
not as individual, but as rational and belonging to universal 
reason. 1 

When the Mussulman fanaticism which took alarm even 
in Averroes lifetime had effectually suppressed the cultivation 
of philosophy within the bounds of Islam, the light was kept 
alive by a series of Jewish scholars of whom Moses ben Mai- 
mon, the contemporary of Averroes, was first in time and in 
renown. The various problems of the Peripatetic system, and 
this particular one among them, were taken up and eagerly 
discussed. It was not fully entered upon by Maimonides, 
but he inclined to go with Ibn-Roshd in holding that im 
mortality was not individual. Levi ben Gerson dealt with it 
at length, and after elaborately criticizing the opinions of 
Ibn-Roshd and others, concluded in favour of an immortality 
which was intellectual but also individual. Rejecting the 
notion of union with the universal reason, and retaining the 
Aristotelian theory that contemplative knowledge is the only 
proper function of an eternal mind, he held that the indi- 

1 Rcnan, op. cit. pp. 122-158. 


vidual mind is immortal in respect of the knowledge possessed 
by it at the time of its emancipation from the body. It has 
a fuller and freer possession of this knowledge, but not having 
the organism and senses by which alone new experience can 
be acquired, it cannot in any way extend it. 1 

We are fairly entitled to assume that Spinoza was not un 
acquainted with the writings of Gersonides ; through them he 
would have become acquainted with the Peripatetic doctrine 
of intellectual immortality as understood by the commen 
tators, and with the Averroist modification of it, as well as 
with Gersonides own speculations. And if this knowledge 
is admitted, no supposition is more natural than that Spinoza s 
own doctrine was suggested to him from this quarter. The 
leading ideas are the same, only worked into formal agree 
ment, as we shall presently see, with Spinoza s metaphysics 
and psychology. His insistance on the eternity of the mind 
being wholly independent of time, and incommensurable with 
existence determined in time, appears to be peculiar to him 
self ; and in the transfiguration of contemplative knowledge as 
the intellectual love of God there is perhaps a reminiscence 
of the Neo-Platonic influence which was still predominant 
when he wrote the * Treatise of God and Man. In that work, 
it may be not amiss to observe here, we find little or nothing 
to throw light on the part of his mature system now under 
consideration. The theory of immortality is but vaguely 
sketched out, and, so far as we can assign it to any generic type, 
is decidedly Neo-Platonic rather than Aristotelian ; the soul s 
capacity for immortality being represented as depending on 
its detachment from the body and union with God. But it is 
worth noting that in the Cogitata Metaphysica some space 
is given to denouncing the error of those who consider eter 
nity as a form of duration. And on the point of eternity 

1 Joel, Levi ben Gerson (Gersonides), als Religions-philosoph (in Bciircige 
zur Gesch. d. Philosophic) : Der von Seele und Leib befreite Geist denkt alle 
seine Erkenntnisse auf einmal und als Einhcit. Nur ncuc Erkenntnisse zu 
erwerben ist er ausser Stands, p. 45. 

u 2 


having to do with essentia not existentia, it is said : Nobody 
will ever say that the being of a circle or a triangle, so far as 
it is an eternal truth, hath endured longer at this day than it 
had in Adam s. Cogitata Metaphysica, Part 2, c. i. 

I proceed to the fuller statement of Spinoza s argument. 
The leading propositions are as follows. 

Prop. 21. The mind cannot imagine any tiling or remember 
tilings past except while the body endures. 

It will be sufficient to observe, without reproducing 
Spinoza s proof and references, that in the Second Part 
memory has been treated as dependent on association, which 
involves a material mechanism in the brain ; and in like man 
ner imagination cannot be exercised without a material organ 
of thought and storehouse of impressions. 

Prop. 22. There nevertheless necessarily exists in God an 
idea which expresses the being of the individual human body 
under the form of eternity. 

Again let us pass over the formal demonstration, and look 
back to Prop. 44 of Part 2. There we find that it is of the 
nature of reason to perceive things under a certain form of 
eternity, which is the same thing as perceiving them as part 
of the necessary order of nature. The human body, like 
everything else, is part of the necessary order of nature, and 
can therefore be thought of under the form of eternity, as 
determined by natural laws whose operation is always and 
everywhere the same. The essentia of a result of given con 
ditions, or what it shall be, has nothing to do with the tract 
of time or portion of space in which the conditions are found : 
for Spinoza, like most if not all writers down to our own time, 
assumes that the laws of nature can be exactly known, and are 
known to be absolutely and universally valid. The existentia 
of a particular result when and where it shall be, if at all 
the fact that it does occur at a given time and place this 
cannot be expressed in terms of the eternal laws of nature 
alone, and therefore cannot be determined in thought by pure 


intellect, but only with the help of the imagination. Thus 
the idea which expresses the essence of this and that human 
body under the form of eternity would seem to be nothing 
else than the knowledge of the human body as a neces 
sary part of the order of nature. Further, it seems a fair ex 
tension of Spinoza s language to say that everything known 
under the form of eternity is to that extent eternal. We 
shall presently see that he all but says it in so many words. 
What Spinoza has really arrived at, then, is that in a certain 
sense the human body may be called eternal. We must care 
fully observe that this eternity has nothing to do with the 
persistence in time of the ultimate elements of the organism 
after the organism is dissolved. Let us now see what follows. 

Prop. 23. The human mind cannot be wholly destroyed with the 
body, but somewhat of it remains which is eternal. 

Demonstr. There is necessarily in God, by the foregoing proposi 
tion, a concept or idea which doth express the being of the human 
body. This accordingly must needs be something which pertains to 
the being of the human mind (by Prop. 13, Part 2). 1 But we do 
not assign to the human mind any duration that can be described by 
time, except so far as it doth express the actual existence of the body, 
which is explained by duration and may be described by time ; that 
is (by Coroll. Prop. 8, Part 2) 2 we assign not. existence to it except 
while the body endures. But seeing there is nevertheless somewhat 
which by a certain eternal necessity is conceived through the being 
of God, this somewhat which belongs to the being of the mind will 
necessarily be eternal. 

Schol. This idea which doth express the being of the body under 
the form of eternity is, as we said, a determined mode of thought 

1 The object of the idea which makes up the human mind is a body or certain 
actually existing mode of extension, and nothing else. 

- So long as particular things do not exist, save so far as they are contained 
in the attributes of God [i.e., so long as they exist potentially but not actually], 
the objective being or ideas of them do not exist, save in so far as the infinite idea 
of God exists. This is a case of the universal parallelism. Whatever can be said 
to exist potentially in the order of extension must also be said to exist potentially 
in the order of thought. The universe as a whole, which on the side of thought 
is infinita Dei idea, involves the whole history of things and every possible con 
sequence of the laws of nature. 


which belongs to the being of the mind and is necessarily eternal. 
Yet it cannot come to pass that we remember anything of an exist 
ence before the body, since neither can there occur any traces thereof 
in the body, nor can eternity be described by time, nor have unto 
time any proportion. But none the less we do feel and are aware 
that we are eternal. For the mind feels not less those things which 
it conceives by the understanding than those which it doth hold in 
memory. The eyes of the mind, wherewith she sees and observes 
things, are no other than demonstrations. So that although we 
remember not that we existed before our body, yet we feel that our 
mind, in so far as it involves the being of the body under the form 
of eternity, is eternal ; and that this manner of its existence cannot 
be described by time or explained in terms of duration. Thus our 
mind can only so far be said to endure, and its existence be described 
by a determined time, as it involves the actual existence of the body ; 
and it hath only so far the power of limiting the existence of things 
by time, and conceiving them under the category of duration. 

Observe, again, how distinctly the notion of persistence in 
time is cut off from that of eternity. Spinoza s eternal life is 
not a continuance of existence but a manner of existence ; 
something which can be realized here and now as much as at 
any other time and place ; not a future reward of the soul s 
perfection but the soul s perfection itself. In which, it is almost 
needless to remind the reader, he agrees with the higher and 
nobler interpretation of almost all the religious systems of the 
world. Whether it is called the life eternal, the kingdom of 
God, wisdom, liberation, or nirvana, the state of blessedness 
has been put forward by the great moral teachers of mankind 
as something not apart from and after this life, but entering into 
and transforming it. 1 The after-coming generations of dull 
and backsliding disciples have degraded these glories of the 
free human mind into gross mechanical systems of future 
rewards and punishments. 

But we must return to the critical study of the argument. 
A difficulty presents itself at first sight, which has weighed 

1 I fear this cannot be said of Mahomet, and moral enthusiasm is precisely 
what the religion founded by him seems to be most wanting in, 


much with those who have thought that Spinoza s only real 
meaning (notwithstanding his express declaration that eternity 
is out of relation to time) must be that the ultimate elements 
of body and mind alike persist in other forms after the living 
organism is broken up. It looks as if too much had been 
proved, though not stated ; as if what is asserted of the 
human mind were by implication asserted of all things what 
ever. Spinoza would then be saying aloud : The human 
mind is in a certain sense eternal and adding in a whisper, 
for the few who could penetrate his secret : and everything 
else too. This reading was long ago put forward (still with 
a certain amount of reserve) by Boullainvilliers in his so-called 
Refutation of Spinoza/ 1731, a title which thinly disguises a 
popular exposition ; and it has been suggested in our own 
day in Holland by Dr. Van Vloten, and lately propounded 
with some confidence by Mr. Lotsy. The objections are 
however insuperable. Either Spinoza gratuitously gives an 
involved and obscure demonstration of a consequence which 
on his metaphysical principles is perfectly simple, or his argu 
ment is from beginning to end a piece of deliberate duplicity. 
The first alternative is repugnant to Spinoza s intellectual 
character, the second to his moral. And then, even if he 
were capable of throwing dust in his readers eyes, what pos 
sible motive had he ? To save appearances, it is suggested. 
If that were so, it would be a curious thing that he began to 
think of saving appearances after he had written nine-tenths 
of the Ethics without the slightest regard to any such pru 
dential economy. There is nothing of the kind in his treat 
ment of popular theology, of final causes, of free-will, of current 
ethical notions, of dominant Cartesian theories. Nay, the allu 
sions to common opinion in this very series of propositions are 
as far from disguise and conciliation as anything in the earlier 
Parts. If Spinoza s design was to save appearances, he has 
gone about the work with incredible clumsiness and want of 
tact. Besides all this, it is hopeless to reconcile the proposed 


interpretation with Spinoza s express words. In short, I do 
not see how any careful reader can on full consideration so 
understand him, unless he is steadfastly minded not only to 
find in the Ethics a complete modern doctrine of physiological 
psychology, but to find nothing else. 

Let us consider Spinoza s reasoning more narrowly. The 
human body may be known as part of an eternal order, under 
the form of eternity, and so may any other body ; that must 
be allowed. The human mind, as strictly corresponding to 
the body, point for point and element for element, may be 
known in like manner ; and so may the mind or complex of 
mental facts corresponding to any other aggregate of matter. 
Is there nothing more to be said then ? and is there no prero 
gative left for man ? Yes, and a great one, the prerogative of 
knowledge. If the atom of matter and the primitive cell of 
organic life may be called eternal, yet their eternity is only in 
the thought of the higher intelligence which knows them as 
part of the immutable order. The knowledge of the material 
atom under the form of eternity is not in the mind-atom 
that is paired with it. But the knowledge of the human body 
under the form of eternity need not be in some separate 
thinking being : it may be in the mind of that body itself. 
The mind can know its own body under the form of eternity ; 
and in knowing the body it knows itself. The knowing and 
self-conscious mind is, as we saw in the Second Part, idea ideae 
as well as idea. Thus it is eternal in the strength of its own 
knowledge, and is conscious of its eternity. It is the clear 
consciousness accompanying every act of knowledge, not any 
such vague sentiment or presentiment as is relied on by the 
popular doctrine of immortality, that Spinoza calls to witness 
when he says : Sentimus experimnrque nos aeternos essc. 

But what is the mind s knowledge of the body under the 
form of eternity ? To know under the form of eternity is to 
know rationally or exactly. In modern language what we 
mean by having a rational knowledge of our own body is being 


able to give a scientific account of its structure and functions : 
and if we carried this conception into Spinoza s propositions 
we should make the eternity of the mind depend on one 
special kind of knowledge, and reduce the way of salvation to 
a course of human physiology a conclusion too grotesque to 
dwell upon. In fact the mind s eternal knowledge of the body, 
as understood by Spinoza, is not a knowledge of the human 
body generically, but a relation between the particular mind 
and the particular body which we should not now think of 
calling knowledge at all. The key to this part of his argu 
ment is the ambiguous use of the word idea on which we have 
already commented in the Second Part of the Ethics. The 
word is sometimes used in the common sense, as meaning a 
concept in the mind referred to some object of knowledge 
outside it : sometimes in the sense peculiar to Spinoza s meta 
physical system, as meaning the mode of thought (which may 
or may not be in a conscious mind) corresponding to a given 
mode of extension. In the first sense idea is the image or 
concept, ideatum the thing perceived or conceived ; in the 
second idea and ideatum are one and the same thing ex 
pressed in the attributes of Thought and of Extension. To 
take a concrete instance, Peter thinks of Paul. The thought 
in Peter s mind is in the first sense idea Pauli\ in the second 
sense it is idea affectionis corporis Petri> that is, Peter s thought 
about Paul is strictly parallel to a certain definite state of the 
material machinery of imagination in Peter s brain. So if I 
think of a geometrical proposition, the ideate of my idea is in 
the one sense a set of geometrical relations in space, in the 
other sense my own body (and especially my brain) as modi 
fied in that particular act of thought. Now Spinoza, as we 
have already pointed out, habitually carries over statements 
and inferences from the one meaning of the term idea to the 
other, apparently without the least suspicion that his pro 
cedure is open to any objection. When I know an external 
fact, the state of my mind which is my knowledge is the idea 


of the external fact in one sense. But it is the idea of a cer 
tain state of my own body in the other sense. Accordingly 
Spinoza affirms that the mind in every act of knowledge also 
knows its own body ; though so long as it perceives things 
after the common order of nature its knowledge of itself and 
the body is not adequate. 1 Now when the mind is in the act 
of rational or scientific knowledge of anything whatever in 
other words, when it perceives things under the form of 
eternity/ Spinoza says, transferring to the relation between the 
mind and its own body what belongs to the relation between 
the mind and the object of knowledge, that the mind knows 
its own body under the form of eternity. So knowing its 
own body and consequently itself, it is eternal, and depends 
only on its own activity for this eternity. As Spinoza says 
farther on, * the mind conceives nothing under the form of 
eternity, save so far as it conceives the being of its own 
body under the form of eternity, that is, save so far as it 
is eternal. (Eth. V. Pr. 31, Demonstr. ; cp. Pr. 29). The verbal 
confusion involved in Spinoza s way of stating his doctrine is 
no doubt surprising at the present day. But it has not been 
assumed here to explain this particular doctrine ; we could 
not help taking note of it, on quite independent grounds, 
in going through the Second Part. 2 And when we remember 
that in Spinoza s time psychology was really in its infancy, 
and hardly any serious attempt had been made to work out 
the theory of perception, our surprise may be considerably 

Apart from the peculiar form of his argument, Spinoza 
falls in this place into a metaphysical difficulty of which he 
was so far aware that he made a distinct effort to escape it. 
The eternity of which the mind is conscious in the act of 
rational knowledge is wholly out of relation to time. Also it 
is distinctly stated to be a kind of existence. 3 Here, then, we 

1 Eth. 2, Pr. 24-29. 2 P. 196, above. 

3 Hanc eius existentiam tempore definiri sive per durationem explicari non 
posse. Prop. 23, Schol. 


have existence out of time, and a knowledge or perception of 
it in consciousness. Now it is at least a serious question 
whether existence out of time is conceivable. We cannot 
think of existence except in terms of actual or possible ex 
perience. But experience involves consciousness or at least 
feeling. And it is not a metaphysical speculation, but an es 
tablished fact of science, that change of some kind is the 
necessary condition of all feeling and experience. Every feeling 
of which we know anything or can form a notion is a feeling of 
transition, of an event, of something happening : which on the 
physical side is motion of some kind in the sentient organism. 
Even an apparently continuous sensation is a series of 
many rapidly succeeding nervous shocks. The more we 
analyse feeling, the more we find change and motion to be its 
constant form : and these involve time. It would seem, there 
fore, that without making any transcendental or universal 
affirmation, but as a matter of human experience as far as it 
has gone, we must say that existence out of time is a combi 
nation of words to which we can attach no real meaning. The 
position involves more consequences than can be here dis 
cussed ; as for instance the total rejection of all attempts, 
however powerful and ingenious, to set up an Absolute, Uncon 
ditioned, Unknowable, or any form of unapproachable reality 
supposed to be somehow more real than the things we feel 
and know. For the present it is enough to beg the reader to 
believe that such a position is philosophically tenable, not 
withstanding that (as he can see for himself) it is in no way 
repugnant to common sense. If, being valiant in speculation 
and disregarding objections of this kind, we begin to talk 
about something alleged to exist without relation to time, the 
objection will be forced upon us in a practical shape by the 
extreme difficulty we shall soon find in pursuing our discourse 
without manifest contradictions. Probably the objection did 
not occur to Spinoza in the shape in which it is here put : for 
that shape is the result of modern inquiries. But he felt the 


logical difficulty of discussing eternity in the language of time ; 
and he endeavoured to secure himself by the following char 
acteristic remark. 

We shall here note that, although we be now certain that the 
mind, so far as it doth conceive things under the form of eternity, is 
eternal ; yet, in order that our ensuing exposition may be the easier 
and the better understood, we shall consider the mind (like as we 
have done thus far) as if at a given moment it began to be, and 
to understand things under the form of eternity ; and this we may 
safely do without any risk of error, so that we use care to conclude 
nothing except from evident premisses. l 

Having laid down this caution, Spinoza sets forth the 
intellectual love of God which is the crown of the mind s 
perfection. It has already been stated that the most perfect 
activity and excellence of the mind is to understand things 
with the third or intuitive kind of knowledge ; and that this 
begets the highest degree of contentment attainable by human 
nature. 2 Again, this knowledge implies the knowledge of 
God ; hence the delight of the highest intellectual activity is 
a pleasure accompanied with the idea of God as its cause. 
That is, it is love of God ; not in that we conceive him adds 
Spinoza as now present, but in that we understand God as 
eternal, and this is what I call the intellectual love of God. 3 
Like the knowledge from which it springs, it is eternal ; on 
which there is another curious remark. 

c Although this love toward God hath had no beginning, yet it 
hath all the perfections of love in the same manner as if it had arisen 
in time, as we feigned in the corollary to the foregoing proposition. 
And herein there is no difference but that the mind hath eternally 
had the same perfections which (as we feigned) accrued to it at a par 
ticular time, and that accompanied by the idea of God as the eternal 
cause thereof. And since pleasure consisteth in a passage to greater 
perfection, tis plain blessedness must consist in this, that the mind 
hath perfection in full possession. 

Here, the reader will observe, we are required to form the 

1 Prop. 31, Schol. 2 Propp. 25, 27. 3 Pr. 32, Coroll. 


idea of an eternal causation ; and this lands us in an impossi 
bility if we regard the cause as an antecedent of the effect, as 
in that case we have to conceive a relation which is in time 
and out of time at once. But this difficulty would probably 
not touch Spinoza. There is nothing to show that he con 
ceived cause and effect as being necessarily antecedent and 
consequent ; on the contrary, it is pretty clear from the First 
Part of the Ethics that he did not. God, as the absolute 
first cause, is the immediate cause of motion and matter, and 
they of all material things ; and similar relations hold in the 
other Attributes. But there is here no question of priority in 

Freedom from the passions, though not itself perfection, 
is a condition of perfection : hence the mind, so far as it 
partakes of eternity, must enjoy this freedom, and Spinoza 
naturally proceeds to show that the mind is not exposed, 
except while the body endures, to those emotions which 
are reckoned as passions. Whence it follows that none 
but the intellectual love is eternal And here for the first 
time Spinoza takes distinct notice of the common opinion of 

* If we consider the general opinion of mankind, we shall 
find that they are indeed aware of the eternity of their own 
mind ; but confound the same with duration, and ascribe it to 
the imagination or memory, which they suppose to remain 
after death. l This explains why Spinoza throughout this 
part of his work avoids the use of the term immortality, and it 
exposes more fully than any comment could do the hopeless 
ness of attempting to represent him as maintaining the 
immortality of the soul in the ordinary sense : yet the attempt 
has been made. 

One more surprise remains : the philosopher is determined 
to outdo the theologians with their own vocabulary. God 
loves himself with an infinite intellectual love : the intellec- 

1 Pr. 34, Coroll. and Schol. 


tual love of human minds towards God is part of this infinite 
love, and in it God may be said to love men ; in which there 
is no contradiction of the foregoing statement that God 
neither loves nor hates any one, since this intellectual love is 
not an emotion. It is perhaps difficult to remember that the 
substance of the propositions thus expressed is still purely 
and simply the human mind s contemplation of itself and its 
own certain knowledge as part of the infinite and necessary 
order of the universe ; that for Spinoza the divine love is 
nothing else than conscious acceptance of universal law, the 
welcoming every event of the Stoics ; and that the secret of 
blessedness and glory (for those titles are expressly claimed 
and justified) is none other than a mind steadfastly bent on 
the truth. 

It seems a poor and barren conclusion to bear up the 
solemnity of language : so strong is the prejudice bred of our 
inveterate custom of hungering after dreams and neglecting 
the realities under our hands. After all, if we turn Spinoza s 
thought into a guide for action, if we translate his speculative 
propositions into a practical imperative, what is the outcome? 
Even that which true and fearless men have preached through 
all the generations to unheeding ears. Seek the truth, fear 
not and spare not : this first, this for its own sake, this only ; 
and the truth itself is your reward, a reward not measured by 
length of days nor by any reckoning of men. This lesson 
assuredly is not an idle one, or unworthy to be set forth with 
fervent and solemn words. And if any man ever had a 
special title so to repeat the lesson, that man was Spinoza, 
whose whole life was an example of it. 

On the strength of these passages Spinoza has been called 
a mystic; and, while they have perplexed philosophical 
inquirers, they have exercised a sort of fascination on many 
readers. As to the actual contents of them, their author is 
no more a mystic than Aristotle, if, as I have endeavoured to 
show, the groundwork of his doctrine is the Aristotelian 



theory that contemplative knowledge is the highest and most 
proper function of the mind, in respect of which alone it can 
be said to partake of eternity. Moreover the form chosen 
by Spinoza may be partly due, as I have already hinted, 
to the desire of encountering theologians with their own 
weapons. But there is unquestionably something of an ex 
alted and mystical temper in his expressions ; and it seems 
possible enough that, but for his scientific training in the 
school of Descartes, he might have been a mystic indeed. If 
this be so, Descartes has one claim the more to the gratitude 
of mankind. 

But these seemingly transcendental propositions are not 
left without practical application. The intellectual love, 
being a quality of the mind inasmuch as it is regarded as an 
eternal truth depending on the nature of God, is indestruc 
tible. And the greater is the activity in a particular mind of 
the clear understanding described as the second and third 
kinds of knowledge, the more does the man partake of 
eternity, the less is he exposed to evil passions, and the less 
does he fear death (Pr. 38, 39). And then there is a sudden 
return to the physical aspect of things, as if to show that it 
has never been forgotten. He that hath a body of most 
various capacities hath also a mind whose greatest part is 
eternal (Prop. 39). For the power of ordering and con 
necting the affections of the body according to the intellec 
tual order is a perfection of the body. Naturally the body 
includes the special organs of thought and reflexion ; the 
outward and apparent excellence of the human body is not 
asserted to be the necessary index of contemplative power. 
At the same time Spinoza would no doubt have said that, 
other things being equal, the commonly recognized qualities 
of health, strength, comeliness, activity, and the like, are all in 
themselves good and desirable ; and that whatever makes for 
the health of the body must in some degree make for the 


health of the mind. In this place his meaning is defined by 
himself in a Scholium. 

1 Since human bodies possess various capacities, there is no doubt 
they may be of such a character as to be attached to minds that have 
much knowledge of themselves and of God, and whose greatest or 
chief part is eternal, and this to such a point that they scarce fear death. 
But for the better understanding of this it shall be observed that we 
live in perpetual mutation, and are called happy or unhappy accord 
ing as we change for the better or the worse. Thus one who from 
being a child or a youth becomes a corpse is said to be unhappy, and 
contrariwise it is accounted happiness if we have been able to run the 
full course of life with a sound mind in a sound body. And in truth he 
who (like a child) hath a body of very few capacities and largely 
subject to outward influences, hath a mind which, if we take it in itself, 
is little or not at all aware of itself, or God, or the nature of things ; 
and contrariwise he that hath a body of many capacities hath a mind 
which, if we take it in itself, is very well aware of itself, of God, and 
of the nature of things. Therefore it is our chief endeavour in this 
life to change the infant s body, so far as its nature admits and is 
convenient, into another which shall have many capacities, and shall 
belong to a mind as fully aware as may be of itself, of God, and of 
the nature of things ; and so that everything that belongs to its 
memory or imagination shall in comparison of the understanding be 
of hardly any weight. 

Here Spinoza seems to regard education, both physical 
and mental, as a process of organic development not differing 
in kind from the purely natural processes of growth ; a guid 
ing and training of the possibilities of variation already given 
in the organism. Though the point is but slightly touched, 
there is enough to show a striking approximation to our most 
recent discoveries in this branch of the science of human 
nature, the most important and perhaps the most neglected 
of its practical applications. 

It has already been incidentally stated that the eternal 
part of the mind is greater in some individuals and less in 
others. But however this proportion may be, the eternal part 
is in every case the more perfect : for this is the only truly 


active part of the mind, and perfection consists in and is 
measured by active power. And here Spinoza adds, rather 
abruptly, a final metaphysical conclusion : namely, that our 
mind, so far as it understands, is an eternal mode of thought, 
which is determined by another eternal mode of thought, 
and that again by another, and so on to infinity ; so that all 
together make up the eternal and infinite understanding of 
God. The other eternal mode of thought by which the mind 
is immediately determined would seem to be the thing known 
by the mind under the form of eternity, and the infinite 
chain in which these are links to be the whole order of the 
universe under the attribute of Thought. But, it may be 
said, this will be only the order as existing at a given 
moment, since the thing known under the form of eternity 
must be a particular thing. Spinoza might reply that it is 
only the infirmity of human imagination that compels us to 
conceive the order of things as fixed at a particular time, and 
even as it is we can conceive that the state of the universe at 
a given moment includes potentially the whole history for an 
infinite past and future. This would involve holding that the 
difference between potential and actual existence is only in 
respect of human imagination, besides the assumption (made 
as a matter of course by Spinoza) that our knowledge of the 
laws of nature is or may be exact and universal. However, 
the speculation is not pursued, and we are brought back to a 
more practical ground. 

Though we knew not that our mind is eternal, we should 
still put in the first place piety and religion, 1 and generally 
everything which in the Fourth Part we showed to belong to 
valour and high-mindedness (Pr. 41). 

The proof is simply that the virtues and the reasons for 
practising them have already been established on a footing 
independent of the mind s eternity. 

1 These terms have been defined in Eth. 4. 37, Schol. i. Religion is all 
desire and action prompted by knowledge of God, i.e., by rational knowledge : 
piety is the desire of well-doing produced by a life according to reason 



But the belief of the common sort/ it is added, seemeth to be 
otherwise. For they mostly seem to hold themselves to be free in 
proportion as they may do after their own lusts, and to be deprived 
of their right in proportion as they are bound to live after the 
commandment of God s law. So they hold piety and religion, and 
generally everything that belongs to firmness of mind, to be burdens, 
and hope after death to cast them off and have the reward of their 
service, that is of piety and religion. But not merely this hope, but 
likewise (and chiefly) fear, to wit of being punished with grievous 
torments after death, doth move them to live after God s law, so far 
as their poverty and weakness of spirit doth admit. And if men had 
not this hope and fear, but held that the mind perishes with the 
body, and no longer life remains for poor mortals (worn out forsooth 
with the burden of pious living), they would go back to their own 
desires, guide their actions by the desire of the moment, and be 
ruled rather by hazard than by themselves. Which to me seemeth 
no less absurd than if a man, because he knows he cannot with 
wholesome food sustain his body for all time, should choose to cram 
himself with poison and deadly things ; or because he perceives that 
the mind is not eternal, I mean not immortal, would therefore live as 
one demented and without aid of reason. But things of such 
absurdity are scarce fit to be mentioned/ 

The vulgar notion of virtue having a reward to claim is 
further contradicted in the next and final proposition. 

Blessedness is not the prize of virtue, but virtue itself ; 
nor have we the gifts of virtue through controlling our 
desires, but we can control our desires because we have the 
gifts of virtue. 

, . . Herewith I have finished all that I purposed to set 
forth of the power of the mind over the emotions, and of her 
freedom. Whence it is evident how great is the wise man s 
power and his advantage over the ignorant man who is driven 
by blind desire. For such a man is distracted by external 
influences and in many other ways besides, and doth never 
attain true contentment in his soul ; he lives as it were with 
out sense of himself and God and the nature of things, and 
no sooner ceases to suffer than he ceases to be. Whereas the 
wise man, if we take him as such, is of a constant mind, and, 


being aware of himself and God and the nature of things in a 
way of eternal necessity, doth never cease to be, but is ever 
in possession of true contentment. And if the way I have 
shown to lead hither seems exceedingly hard, yet it may 
be discovered. That truly must be hard which is so seldom 
found. For if salvation were so easy and could be found 
with little trouble, how should it come to pass that nearly all 
mankind neglect it ?- But every excellent work is as difficult 
as it is rare. 

These are the last words of Spinoza s Ethics ; words of 
gravity but not of discouragement. In their literal sense 
they are not quite consistent with what he has said in a 
former proposition ; for we have there read that it is not 
difficult to pursue the life of reason and freedom : and such a 
life must lead ere long, on Spinoza s principles, to wisdom 
and true knowledge. Perhaps he contemplated a practical 
standard of righteous living and happiness attainable by 
ordinary men with a good will, and a higher kind of satis 
faction accessible only by strenuous thinking and the habit of 
contemplative science. He seems to have thought it at least 
improbable that the great bulk of mankind should ever be 
able to dispense with the external coercion of human laws 
and ordinances, or even with the belief in supernatural re 
wards and punishments, as a guide of conduct. Once more 
we note how near he comes to the Stoics. The wise man is 
thoroughly possessed of the knowledge that virtue is self- 
sufficient, and therein finds his happiness, whatever his 
external conditions : but the perfect ideal of wisdom can 
scarcely be realized by man. The philosopher nevertheless 
makes this his aim, and comes as near it as he can. The way 
is open to everyone alike : but as it is, the bulk of man 
kind are governed by the coarser motives which alone they 
appreciate, and which experience has shown to be necessary 
for the maintenance of society. Such is the Stoic position as 
well as Spinoza s, In so far as this is a statement of fact, we 

X 2 


have no right to ask whether it is agreeable or flattering to 
human pride, but only whether it is true ; and, whether we 
consider Spinoza s time or our own, we shall find it not easy 
to deny. So far as it implies the absence of hope that the 
description may some day cease to be true, at least as regards 
the commonwealth of civilized nations, we may regret that 
Spinoza did not see his way to believing in the improvement 
of mankind. But before we pass any intellectual or moral 
censure upon him for this, we should ask ourselves whether, 
his circumstances and his knowledge of history and institutions 
being such as they were, he had reasonable grounds for ex 
pecting any continuous improvement. He wrote in a time 
which on the whole was one of reaction, and in which the 
blessings of a far distant past, partly by the legendary bias 
common to all ages, partly under the special influence of the 
Renaissance, were vastly exaggerated. The movement of 
free thought seemed arrested ; in politics everything was 
confusion ; the growth of science was only beginning. 
Spinoza was not the man to win a cheap reputation for large- 
heartedness by facile promises of a golden age. 

In this last Part of the Ethics we have traced a curiously 
involved and artificial argument, and have tried to show to 
what extent it turns on Spinoza s peculiar use of language 
which modern criticism cannot allow to pass current. Yet 
his doctrine of the eternity of the mind must remain one of 
the most brilliant endeavours of speculative philosophy, and 
it throws a sort of poetical glow over the formality of his 
exposition. We have already said that it has a sufficiently 
certain practical lesson. But still we linger over it, seeking 
for some expression which may so give us the central idea 
that we can accept and use it for ourselves, some concentra 
tion of the commanding thought without the precarious 
dialectical form in which it is clothed. If the task were still 
to attempt, it might be a hard one ; but there is no need for 
any such attempt. The essence of Spinoza s thought is 


already secured for us by a master who combines delicacy of 
perception and the intellectual tact which is the flower of 
criticism with consummate power over language. M. Renan 
has expressed it in the perfectly chosen words which I have 
placed at the head of this chapter, and with which, so far as I 
can preserve them in translation, I shall now end it : Reason 
leads Death in triumph, and the work done for Reason is done 
for eternity. 




Ond egli ancora : Or di ; sarebbe il peggio 
Per 1 uomo in terra, se non fosse cive ? 
Si, rispos io : e qui ragion non cheggio. 

DANTE : Paradiso, 8, 115. 

Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is 
enemy to every man j the same is consequent to the time wherein men live 
without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall 
furnish them withal. In such condition, there is no place for industry, because the 
fruit thereof is uncertain : and consequently no culture of the earth ; no navigation, 
nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea ; no commodious building ; 
no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force ; no 
knowledge of the face of the earth ; no account of time ; no arts ; no letters ; no 
society ; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death ; 
and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. 

HOBBES : Leviathan, ch. 13. 

THE metaphysical parts of Spinoza s philosophy are expressed, 
it must be allowed, in a manner not congenial to English 
habits of thought : and in studying his Ethics the English 
reader may be at some disadvantage as compared with those 
who have been trained in a Continental school. When we 
come to Spinoza s theory of politics the balance is redressed. 
Though not actually a disciple of Hobbes, Spinoza so closely 
follows him that the philosophy of law and government which 
appears in the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, is just indi 
cated in the Ethics, and is worked out in the Tractatus 
Politicus, distinctly belongs to the general doctrine character 
istic of the English school of jurisprudence. This doctrine 
was first clearly given out by Hobbes, then taken up after a 


long interval by Bentham, then carried on with additions 
into a new generation by Austin ; it has in our own time been 
endowed by the work of Sir Henry Maine and others with 
the breadth and flexibility that were wanting in its earlier 
stages, and is now accepted, with more or less development and 
modification, by nearly all English writers who pay any serious 
attention to the scientific study of law. 

Hence the leading ideas of Spinoza s treatise on Politics 
ought to have for an English reader nothing very strange in 
them. The treatise was the latest work of his life, and is un 
finished ; but that which remained to be added would have 
been concerned mostly with points of detail. The editors of 
the Opera Posthuma have given in the preface an extract 
from a letter of Spinoza s written while he was engaged on 
this work. 

< I should not miss this opportunity were I not already engaged by 
a matter I judge more to the purpose, and which I think will also please 
you better, that is, the composition of a treatise on Politics, which 
on your persuasion I began some time ago. Of this treatise there 
are six chapters now finished. The first contains a kind of introduc 
tion to the body of the work. The second treats of the law of nature ; 
the third, of the right of the supreme magistrate \ the fourth, what 
affairs of state be in the supreme magistrate s discretion ; the fifth, 
what is that last and chief good which a society may contemplate ; 
and the sixth, by what method a monarchic il government ought to 
be established that it may not slide into a tyranny. At present I 
am on the seventh chapter, wherein I formally prove all the heads of 
the foregoing sixth chapter touching the institution of a well ordered 
monarchy. After this I shall proceed to aristocracy and popular 
government, lastly to legislation and other particular questions 
regarding political science. 

Neither the date, the occasion alluded to in the first sen 
tence, nor the correspondent s name is disclosed. The 
chapters on aristocracy were afterwards added, and one on 
democracy was begun, in the middle of which the treatise 
breaks off. There is another letter of Spinoza s to Jarig Jellis 


(Ep. 47), dated February 17, 1671, which seems to throw some 
more light on the matter. In this he says : 

A friend of mine sent me a while ago a book entitled " Homo 
Politicus," 1 whereof I had heard much talk. On perusal of it I 
found it as mischievous a book as can be devised or composed by 
man. To this author s mind the chief good is rank and wealth, and 
thereto he directs his teaching. . . . For the rest, he mightily re 
commends deceit, promising and breaking one s promise, lying, 
false swearing, and much else of the same kind. When I had read 
all this I fell to thinking how I might indirectly controvert this author 
by a book in which I should treat of the chief good, then show the 
distracted and wretched state of those who seek office and fortune, 
and lastly prove by convincing reasons and abundant examples that 
commonwealths must needs perish, and have perished, through men s 
insatiable appetite for these things. 

It is possible that we have here the germ of the Tractatus 
Politicus, though the plan sketched out is very different from 
that which Spinoza began to execute. All that is left of it is 
the problem, treated in a purely scientific manner, of deter 
mining the conditions of stability in political institutions. 
Spinoza s unfinished treatise cannot be said to hold a place 
in political science at all comparable to that which is held by 
the Ethics in philosophy. So far as I know, it has been but 
little studied and has had no marked influence on Continental 
thought. In England, where it might have had a better 
chance, the general prejudice against Spinoza prevented it 
from obtaining the attention it deserved. Thus the political 
theory of Spinoza has been left as it were stranded between 
the two main currents of speculation. We shall find, however, 
that the examination of it is no waste of time. The Tracta 
tus Politicus is much more than what it appears to be at 
first sight, a mere adaptation of Hobbes to the terminology of 
the Ethics. Hobbes is nowhere expressly mentioned by 

1 Presumably the work catalogued by Barbier in his Dictionnaire des ouvrages 
anonymes (No 20,602 in ed. 1824). Homo politicus, hoc est, consiliarius novus, 
officiarius et aulicus secundum hodiernam praxin, auctore Pacifico a Lapide 
(Christophoro Rapp, Cancellario Electorali Borussize). Cosmopoli, 1665, in-4.. 


Spinoza, save once in answer to a correspondent, and once in 
a note to the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. 1 But the depar 
tures from his method and conclusions involve a good deal of 
tacit criticism ; and this implied criticism takes a strikingly 
modern line on some points. For substantial anticipation of 
modern constitutional doctrines it would be unreasonable to 
look in a writer of Spinoza s time. Occasional remarks occur, 
however, which make us regret that Spinoza never wrote his 
chapter on the theory of legislation. He points out with per 
fect clearness the futility of sumptuary laws, and assigns the 
true ground of it, namely, that society has no interest in en 
forcing them. Laws which can be broken without any wrong 
to one s neighbour are made light of ; and so far from such 
laws restraining the appetite and lusts of mankind, they rather 
heighten them. Nitimur in vetitum semper, cupimusque negata? 
Men who have the leisure will always find the wit to evade laws 
made to regulate such matters as cannot be wholly forbidden, 
banquets, games, apparel, and the like ; wherein excess only is 
evil, and that to be measured by the particular citizen s for 
tune ; so that it cannot be defined by statutes of general ap 
plication. 3 Spinoza has been charged, and still is charged by 
some of his critics, with preaching absolutism. The whole 
scope of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus/ which is an ela 
borate plea for liberty of thought and expression, is a refuta 
tion of this : and there also occur in the Tractatus Politicus 
many sentences and maxims which show a very different tem 
per. Such are the following : It makes for slavery, not 
peace, to deliver all power to one man. It is better that the 
just counsels of a realm should be laid open to enemies, than 

1 Cap. 1 6, 34, n. In whatever commonwealth a man is, he may be free. 
For certainly a man may be so far free as he is governed by reason. But reason 
every way persuadeth to peace (N.B. Hobbes is otherwise) ; but this cannot be 
secured unless the laws of the commonwealth are kept. There is an oversight 
here, for Hobbes makes peace the first object of rational desire. Leviathan, 
c. 13, ad Jin. and c. 14. 

2 We spurn at rule, and seek forbidden ioys. Ovid, Amor. Hi. 4. 17. 
8 Tract. Polit. c. 10, 5. 


that the wicked secrets of tyrants should be concealed from 
citizens. With this last saying we may contrast one of 
Hobbes : In deliberations that ought to be kept secret, 
whereof there be many occasions in public business, the 
counsels of many, and especially in assemblies, are danger 
ous. l 

It may be convenient, before entering upon details, to give 
a general view of Spinoza s plan, and of the extent to which 
he agrees with and differs from Hobbes. They both aim at 
the construction of a science of politics on the basis of the 
known facts of human nature ; and the assumptions they 
make about average human nature are much the same. But 
Hobbes, writing with a view to immediate controversies, does 
not adventure himself to any length on the path of speculative 
construction. The practical bearing of his argument may be 
summed up in one sentence : Every monarch ought to be ab 
solutely supreme in matters both spiritual and temporal ; 
England is a monarchy ; therefore the king of England is ab 
solute. Spinoza, on the other hand, undertakes the ideal con 
struction of the most stable types of institutions for monarchy, 
aristocracy, and democracy respectively. He goes nearly as 
far as Hobbes, but not quite, in his dislike and distrust of re 
volutions ; and, probably taking from Hobbes his notions of 
the English Constitution and of contemporary English history, 
gives the English civil war as an instance of a rebellion which 
had ended in complete failure. He thinks it must be almost 
always a fatal mistake to attempt a fundamental change in an 
existing government, of whatever type it may be. But in the 
abstract his preference is for democracy, a preference more 
distinctly expressed in the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus 
than anywhere else. Democracy is defined, however, in such 
a way as to include most of the governments commonly 
called aristocratic or constitutional. It is also remarkable 
that Spinoza s ideal monarchy is on the whole a more popular 

1 Leviathan, c. 25. 


government than his ideal aristocracy. His theory of sove 
reignty is essentially the same as that of Hobbes. But he 
does not carry it out into the same unqualified consequences. 
According to Hobbes the origin of the State is a covenant 
of mutual concession prompted by the mutual fear of men in 
a lawless condition, and by the rational desire of peace which 
is the first law of nature ; where a law of nature means a rule 
discovered by reason as a means toward self-preservation. 
The sovereign, whether he be one man or an assembly of men, 
bears the person of the united multitude who reduce all their 
wills, by plurality of voices, unto one will, and in this union 
become a commonwealth. The collected power and authority 
of every citizen is transferred to him by the common man 
date, to be used at his discretion for their peace and common 
defence. Further, the mandate is irrevocable, since it is not 
several from each citizen to the sovereign, but depends on the 
social covenant of all the citizens. Every subject has cove 
nanted with every other that their natural right shall be and 
remain transferred to the sovereign. Hobbes admits that the 
unanimous assent of the sovereign and all the subjects (not 
of the subjects without the sovereign) may determine the 
sovereign s right ; the result of which would be a total disso 
lution of government and return to the natural state of war. 
Whether the whole commonwealth, including the sovereign, 
might change the form of government without passing through 
anarchy is a question which, so far as I know, he left untouched. 
At all events, the sovereign is an agent whose powers cannot 
be effectually recalled or renounced in any practically possible 
circumstances : and no subject can complain of acts of state 
done by the sovereign, because every such act has been autho 
rized by the subject and must be deemed his own. Modern 
readers cry out, of course, that all this scheme of covenants 
and mandates is the purest fiction. But Hobbes is not alto 
gether unprepared even for this. He catches the objecting 
individual in a dilemma. Either you have agreed, he says, to 


transfer your power to the sovereign or you have not. If you 
have, then you are estopped from disputing the acts of the 
sovereign. If you have not, you declare yourself a stranger 
to the State, and therefore the State has no duties towards 
you and may treat you as an enemy. Apart from these par 
ticular turns of dialectic, Hobbes argument always comes 
round to offering the choice between submission and war ; and 
war is for him so clearly the worst of evils that the choice 
cannot be doubtful. Whether the argument is not equally 
good to establish (as Dante long before had actually sought 
to establish) the necessity of an universal monarch to keep 
the peace between sovereign states, as the sovereign in each 
state between individuals, is another question to which Hobbes 
does not seem to have applied himself. 

In Spinoza we do not find these rigorous extremes. He 
describes government as founded on the common consent of 
the governed, but there is no elaborate analysis of the sup 
posed contract. Again, he regards the power of the State 
not as swallowing up the natural power or right of the indi 
vidual to act as he thinks best for his own interest, but as 
holding out effectual motives to the citizens to agree in exer 
cising that right or power in a particular way, namely, by 
living peaceably under the laws. Further, although he no 
where expressly says that rebellion is right even in an 
extreme case, he does say quite plainly that no government 
is really absolute, since in the last resort its power is limited 
by the endurance of its subjects, and there are some things 
which no community will endure. Thus a supreme govern 
ment, though it cannot offend against its own civil laws, may 
in a certain sense offend against the law of nature. Rulers 
who so carry themselves as to invite the contempt or hatred 
of their subjects run the risk of committing political suicide. 
* Such deeds turn fear into indignation, and the state of civil 
society into a state of war. As far as the theory of the 
English constitution goes, Parliament might pass an Act 


forbidding people to perform their contracts. But in that 
case Parliament would cease to be obeyed, and Englishmen 
would have to find some other form of government. More 
over Spinoza holds it competent to the sovereign power not 
only to interpret but to alter the fundamental laws of the 
commonwealth, provided that it can be done without provok 
ing a revolution that would in fact, not only by the construc 
tive dissolution of a supposed covenant, dissolve civil society ; 
which Hobbes does not seem to contemplate. There is 
indeed one natural right which Hobbes holds to be inalien 
able, the right of personal self-defence ; and consequently the 
right of inflicting punishment is not grounded on any con 
cession or gift of the subjects, but is part of the natural right 
of self-preservation exercised by the sovereign on behalf of 
the commonwealth. For the subjects did not give the sove 
reign that right ; but only in laying down theirs, strengthened 
him to use his own, as he should think fit, for the preservation 
of them all : so that it was not given, but left to him, and to 
him only. l Spinoza s exceptions are much larger. His 
language on this point in the i^th Chapter of the Tractatus 
Theologico-Politicus is particularly explicit. In the fore 
going chapter he has laid down the theory of absolute 
sovereignty as founded on a concurrent cession of individual 
rights, without even Hobbes reservation of self-defence. 
But he now points out that absolute sovereignty is an ideal 
never completely realized. No man can ever put himself 
wholly at another s discretion ; nor have there ever been 
rulers who did not stand in some fear of their subjects. 

In truth, if men could so far lose their natural right, that 
for time to come they might do nothing without the will of them 
that held sovereign right, then governors might without remedy use 
all extremities of violence towards their subjects : which opinion I 
think no man can entertain. Wherefore it must be allowed that 

1 Leviathan^ ch. 28. 


every man reserveth to himself much of his own right, which there 
fore dependeth on no other man s resolution, but on his own alone. 1 

In fine, the right of a government over its subjects is 
really its power of commanding their obedience : but this 
does not mean only commanding by force or threats, for it is 
the fact of obedience, not the motive, that makes men 
subjects. The subject fulfils the law whether he obeys from 
hope, fear, both together, or any other cause. 

A man is then most under another s government when he 
determines of full consent to observe all that other s orders ; and it 
follows that the prince who hath most dominion is he that reigns 
over his subjects minds. But if they had most dominion who be 
most feared, then that eminence would manifestly belong to the 
subjects of despots, who by their despots are most greatly feared. 

And though governments cannot control men s thoughts 
and affections directly, they may do it indirectly. This again 
looks like a reflection on Hobbes, who is emphatic on the 
point that governments can control nothing but overt acts. 

We may now understand Spinoza s answer to his corre 
spondent in Ep. 50 : 

As concerning the politics, the difference betwixt Hobbes and 
myself of which you ask consists in this, that I ever save natural 
right harmless, and hold that the sovereign magistrate in any state 
hath no more right over his subjects than is measured by the excess 
of his power over the subject ; which (i.e. the identity of right and 
power) always takes place in the state of nature/ 

It would appear that altogether Spinoza attached de 
cidedly less importance than Hobbes to the question of 
the origin of government. What he regarded as the main 
thing was the fact of a government existing and being able 
to maintain itself. In Hobbes view it is difficult to see how 
a government once established can ever lose its title : the 
Leviathan once framed not only exists de jure, but is knit 

1 Cf. Hume, in the Essay on the Origin of Government. In all govern 
ments there is a perpetual intestine struggle, open or secret, between Authority 
and Liberty, and neither of them can ever absolutely prevail in the contest. 



together by a vinculum juris which nobody can undo. He 
is driven to admit in some measure the principle of allegiance 
to de facto governments : but all he will say is that, if the 
rightful government becomes unable to protect any of its 
subjects, these subjects are remitted to their natural right of 
self-preservation, and may give their allegiance to any power 
from which protection can be had. His greatest aversion 
and contempt is for the doctrine of mixed government ; and 
his logical triumph over the fallacy of divided sovereignty is 
hardly distinguishable from his practical dislike of all attempts 
to shift the centre of power or divide the substance of it from 
the form. While Hobbes expressly admits that an aristocracy 
or democracy may exist under monarchical appearances, he 
utterly refuses to consider whether there is anything to be 
said for holding the constitution of England to be of this 
kind. The name of monarchy seems enough to dazzle his 
judgment when he comes to the specific case. Spinoza 
does not share this temper. His theoretical analysis does 
not prevent him from having regard to the convenience of 
mankind, and he is no more an absolutist than Bentham. In 
his ideal commonwealths he makes elaborate provision for 
checks and balances, which in their spirit almost anticipate 
the constitutional publicists of the eighteenth century. 

The point on which Hobbes and Spinoza are most 
thoroughly in accord is the total rejection of all claims, on 
grounds of religion or otherwise, to set up a jurisdiction equal 
or superior to that of the civil power. They both denounce 
ecclesiastical pretensions at every opportunity ; and, while 
they both admit that if a private man has a special revelation 
he must obey it even against the State, they give it to be 
understood, in almost identical terms, that the possibility of a 
special revelation need not be practically considered. No 
man can have immediate assurance of its truth except him to 
whom it is actually revealed, and therefore no private citizen 
is bound to take notice of anything alleged for revealed truth 


by another, * who, being a man, may err, and, which is more, 
may lie. l One who sets up for a prophet is at the very least 
bound to prove his office by miracles ; Hobbes adds as a no 
less indispensable test of a true prophet that he must not 
preach any religion but the established one. Spinoza sug 
gests that even if a real prophet appeared in a modern com 
monwealth there would be no strict obligation to receive him. 
So that in a commonwealth, a subject that has no certain 
and assured revelation particularly to himself concerning the 
will of God is to obey for such the command of the common 
wealth. 2 The State is supreme over all persons and in all 
causes, ecclesiastical and temporal, except in hypothetical 
events which cannot happen. 

We have seen that Spinoza first gives the theory of 
sovereignty in unqualified terms, and then states in another 
chapter the qualifications which he sees to be needful in 
applying it to existing facts. This deserves a word of 
special notice. The faculty of clearly grasping an abstract 
doctrine, and withal remembering that it is an abstraction, 
and not a complete account of the actual phenomena, is 
by no means a common one. In our own day it has been 
reserved for Sir Henry Maine 3 to point out with accuracy the 
ideal character of the conception of sovereignty and positive 
law developed by Hobbes and his followers, and thus to 
furnish the means of assigning its real philosophical and prac 
tical value. That Spinoza should have seriously attempted 
a similar process, and to a certain extent succeeded, is 
perhaps not the least of the circumstances that show the in 
dependence of his thought even where there is the strongest 
appearance of his following others. 

Having thus indicated the general nature of Spinoza s 
political theory, we may proceed to a more detailed view of 

1 Leviathan, ch. 32. 

2 Leviathan, ch. 26 ; cp. Spinoza, Tract. Polit. c. 3, IO ; Tract. Theol.-Pol. 
C. 1 6, 6 1 sqq. and 19, passim. 

3 Lectures on. Sovereignty in The Early History of Institutions. 


the Tractatus Politicus. In the introductory chapter 
Spinoza announces his intention of dealing with the subject 
in a purely scientific manner. On this point he repeats 
in substance what he had said in the Preface to the Third 
Part of the Ethics. One remarkable passage betrays how 
strangely he underrated the extent and complexity of the 

I am firmly convinced that all the kinds of commonwealths 
which can be devised for men s living together in harmony, and 
likewise the means whereby a multitude should be guided and kept 
within settled bounds, have been shown by experience ; so that I do 
not think there is anything not repugnant to experience and practice 
which we can discover by meditation on this topic, but hath before 
now been known and put to trial. For such is the temper of men 
that they cannot live except in some common bond of laws ; and 
the laws of commonwealths and affairs of state have been founded 
and considered by men of the greatest wit (whether by policy or by 
craft) ; wherefore tis hardly credible that we should be able to 
devise anything fitted to be of use to society which opportunity or 
accident hath never offered, and which men busied on public affairs 
and mindful of assuring their own interest have not discerned. 
(c. i, 3)- 

Yet this only seems strange to the eyes of us who have 
learnt by fairly trying scientific methods how complex the 
world is. We have already seen that Spinoza s belief in a 
comparatively short road to certain and complete knowledge 
of everything was the belief of almost all the aspiring minds 
of his time. Not only Descartes before him, but Leibnitz 
after him, sought and expected to find universal methods, 
and looked forward to the consummation of the sciences 
within a few generations. And here we may be allowed to 
put in a word for Bacon, who has been both praised and 
blamed more inconsiderately than almost any philosophical 
writer. Bacon s belief in a general art of scientific discovery 
which would go near to equalize men s intellects is now easily 
seen to have been erroneous. But it was not a singular or 



a perverse belief at the time. If we ridicule Bacon on this 
score, we must ridicule him for not having known more than 
Leibnitz did a century later. So too in the present case of 
politics, Spinoza s opinion that no experiment of importance 
remained to be tried was the opinion generally held by the 
most competent persons of his time. The variety of constitu 
tions then existing in the remaining Italian republics, the free 
cities of the Empire, and the Swiss cantons, appears to have 
suggested that all possible variety was exhausted rather 
than to have stimulated curiosity. Certainly Hobbes never 
dreamt of the great experiment impending in England, 
which has been directly and indirectly the parent of so many 

Again, the writers of the eighteenth century treated the 
English constitution as having reached its final development ; 
and they regarded a state which Hobbes would have called 
anarchy as the highest actual and theoretical perfection of 
government. Nor had they any clear notion of the distinc 
tion between the outlines of positive constitutional law and 
the great body of informal constitutional usage which clothes 
the legal skeleton with full and vaiious life. Hume s politi 
cal essays, though full of brilliant remarks, are still in the 
main unfruitful. His Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth is 
not unlike the Tractatus Politicus in design and arrange 
ment, allowance being made for the difference of scale, and it 
has about as much or as little practical value. In Montes 
quieu we find the true forerunner of the modern historical 
method. But to pursue this here would be to go too far 

It may be well to translate the next following paragraph 
of the introductory chapter of the Tractatus Politicus, as it 
contains a phrase (italicized in the translation) which is often 
and deservedly quoted by modern writers on Spinoza. 

In applying myself therefore to the science of politics, I pre 
tended nothing new or unknown, but only to prove by certain and 


undoubted reasons, or to deduce from the constitution of man itself, 
the propositions most agreeable to practical use. And in order to 
inquire of the matters of this science with the same freedom of mind 
we are wont to use in the mathematics, I have made it my especial 
care neither to mock, to bewail, nor to denounce men s actions, but to 
understand them : and to this end I have considered men s emotions, 
such as love, hate, anger, envy, honour, pity, and other agitations of 
the mind, not as defects of human nature, but as properties which 
belong to it in like manner as to the nature of air there belong heat, 
cold, storms, thunder, and the like ; which though they be incon 
venient, yet are necessary and have constant causes whereby we 
endeavour to understand their nature, and the mind rejoices in the 
right contemplation of them no less than in the knowledge of such 
things as are pleasing to the senses. 

Political science is to concern itself with human nature not 
as it ought to be, but as it is, It must not be assumed that men 
will act in public affairs according to the true dictates of reason 
unless it is made their obvious interest not to do otherwise. 
For the welfare of the State it is all one from what motive 
men obey the law and perform the duties of their station, so 
that good government be secured. Freedom and strength 
of mind are virtues in private men ; but the virtue of govern 
ments is safety. Spinoza proceeds to consider the funda 
mental principles of government, starting from the facts of 
average human nature (cap. 2). We translate the paragraph 
in which the philosophical grounds of his theory are laid down. 

Any particular thing in nature may be adequately conceived, 
whether it existeth or no. And as the beginning of existence of 
particular things in nature cannot be deduced from their definition, 
so neither can their continuance in existing. For the thing itself, as 
it is in our conception, 1 remains the same after it has begun to exist 
as before. As therefore the beginning of their existence cannot 
follow from their essence (i.e. the knowledge of what a thing is 
differs from the knowledge that such a thing is), so neither doth 
their continuance in existence : but to go on existing they need the 
same power which they need for beginning to exist. Whence it 

1 Essentia idcalis ; a term which does not, I think, occur in the Ethics. 

\ 2 


follows that the power of all things in nature, whereby they exist, 
and therefore whereby they have effects, can be no other than the 
eternal power of God himself. For if it were any other created 
power, it could not maintain itself, nor by consequence other things, 
but would need for its own continuing in existence the same power 
that was needed to create it. 

Now from this conclusion, that the power of things in nature, 
whereby they exist and work, is identically the power of God, we 
easily understand what is natural law or right. 1 For since God hath 
right to everything, and the right of God is nothing else than the 
power of God, so far as it is regarded as absolutely free, it follows that 
everything in nature hath of nature so much right as it hath power to 
exist and work ; seeing the power of each several thing in nature, 
whereby it doth exist and work, is no other than the free and 
absolute power of God. Therefore I understand by the law of 
nature the statutes or rules of nature according to which all things 
happen, that is, merely the power of nature. And thus the 
natural right of the whole of nature, and by consequence of each 
several individual, doth extend so far forth as its power; conse 
quently whatever every man does by the rules of his own nature, 
that he does by perfect natural right, and hath right over nature so 
far as by his power he prevails. 

This statement of Spinoza s, and the corresponding 
passages in Hobbes, appear to us at this day far-fetched if 
not perverse. It is so much easier to say at once that such 
phrases as law of nature, natural right, have no meaning in 
jurisprudence and political science ; that laws conferring 
rights can exist only in a society ; and that, so far as we 
can conceive man as not a member of society, we must con 
ceive him as not subject to any law. But a dominant set of 
phrases, however inappropriate to a particular writer s purpose, 
is not thrown aside without struggles. In Spinoza s time the 
Law of Nature was not only still commonly spoken of and 
appealed to, but the idea had received an important revival 
and extension at the hands of Grotius and his contemporaries. 
To discard the term would have been simply impossible. 

1 Spinoza uses the one term ins naturae, The double meaning cannot be 
given by any single word in English. 


Both Hobbes and Spinoza could only strive to fix a new mean 
ing of their own upon it. It may help us to understand the 
meaning sought by Spinoza if we here shortly recapitulate 
the position assumed by his philosophy with regard to the 
fundamental ideas of ethics and law. 

The notions of good and bad arise as soon as we consider 
an individual whose existence and welfare are distinguishable 
from the existence of the universe as a whole. For every 
creature some things are good and others bad. But the 
same things need not be good and bad for different indivi 
duals, or for. the same individual in different circumstances. 

When we have a society composed of individual men 
capable of independent action, that which is good or bad for 
the society becomes right or wrong for the individuals com 
posing it. What is esteemed good or bad by the society at 
large, or by the opinion prevailing in it, is prescribed or for 
bidden to the individual members as being right or wrong. 
This is what modern English writers have called Positive 

When in a particular society there has been formed 
an organized government provided with definite means of 
making itself obeyed, and that government prescribes, per 
mits, and forbids particular kinds of conduct, then conduct 
falling under these rules acquires further special qualities. 
What is prescribed is legal duty or just ; what is allowed is 
legally right ; what is forbidden is legally wrong or unjust. 
This is, in modern language, Positive Law. 

Again, certain rules of conduct may be discovered by 
reflection on the general conditions of human nature, and 
these rules are independent of particular social systems. 
They may be regarded either as scientific statements about 
the conduct men actually pursue, in so far as their reason is 
not disturbed by passion, error, and prejudice, or as moral 
precepts setting forth an ideal to which, as reasonable men, 
we shall endeavour to conform in our way of life. Such 


propositions or precepts are given in the fourth part of 
Spinoza s * Ethics/ and answer in a general way to the rules 
of conduct given by Hobbes as laws of nature. 1 So far as a 
man follows these precepts, he is said to live according to 

It is true that Spinoza does not clearly recognize the dis 
tinction between Positive Morality and Positive Law, or 
rather omits to take note of the existence of Positive 
Morality. Indeed the conception is a modern one. But it 
fits well enough into Spinoza s scheme, and the statement 
would have been so incomplete without it that I have felt 
justified in adding it. Now it will be observed that in this 
scheme right and wrong are terms of civil or social morality, 
not of the natural morality which is concerned with the self- 
maintenance of the individual. For the individual, as such, 
there is only good and bad. Nevertheless most things which 
are good or bad for the individual are also right or wrong, in 
other words good or bad for society. Hence most things 
which are first regarded as simply good or bad come to 
acquire a certain value in the social scale of rightness and 
wrongness ; and ethical associations derived from the com 
munity are at last carried over to the general notions of 
goodness and badness themselves. A similar association 
takes place, but to a less extent, between the ethical and 
legal notions of right and wrong. Hence the intellectual 
analysis is difficult, and is apt to excite in the moral sense a 
kind of jealousy bordering on repugnance. 

On the other hand there are elements of possible conflict, 
We have at least two distinct sources of rules of conduct, or, 
according to the developed statement here presented, three. 
One set of rules is propounded by reason as good ; another by 
the community as right ; another by the civil power as law. 

1 Leviathan, c. 14. Hobbes distinguishes between ius and lex, and defines 
lex naturalis, in effect, as a rule of conduct discovered by reason, and tending to 
the self-preservation of the agent. 


Now it may be that all these rules coincide, so far as they 
cover the same ground ; but we are not entitled to assume 
that they will. Indeed there could not be a complete and 
universal coincidence unless all societies and all governments 
were guided by right reason ; which is not the case. Positive 
Law may conflict with Positive Morality ; both Positive Law 
and Positive Morality may conflict with the dictates of reason. 
If this happens, which are we to follow ? Spinoza does not 
explicitly discuss questions of this kind. All he has to say on 
the matter is that reason bids man to live sociably with his 
fellow-men, and prescribes obedience to the civil law as being, 
in general, the surest way to that end. And when reason 
says, obey the law, we follow reason in obeying the law, 
though the particular law may be one that we disapprove. 
This general indication of the relation of Ethics to Politics is 
perhaps as much as can be expected in a political treatise. 
It is also proper to observe that although Spinoza constantly 
implies that the ethical conceptions of right and wrong are 
of a quasi-legal character, and are not applicable except to 
men living in society, this is not necessary to his political 
theory as such. Having premised this much, we resume the 
order of the treatise. 

Every man does what he thinks most for his own interest : 
and whatever he actually does, whether reasonably or 
foolishly, he has, in Spinoza s terminology, a natural right to 
do. Men have conflicting interests in so far as they are 
subject to passion ; and man is more formidable to man than 
any other creature. But men are subject to passions ; there 
fore men left to themselves would be in frequent conflict, or 
in other words the state of nature is a state of war. On the 
other hand, a state of life in which every man must fight for 
his own hand is too precarious to be tolerable. Man cannot 
exercise his faculties with any pleasure or convenience except 
in society, where his strength is multiplied by union : and in 
this sense it may justly be said that man is a social animal. 


When a multitude of men live together in society, each 
individual, being powerless as against the united will of the 
rest, has no more right than the society chooses to leave him. 
The right which arises from and is determined by the power 
of the society over the individual is called government or 
dominion (imperiuni), and is vested in the person or persons, 
be they many, few, or one, who are appointed to the supreme 
charge of public affairs. 

The body of men subject to one government is a State. 1 
Its members are called citizens in respect of their franchises 
and privileges, subjects in respect of their duties. No citizen 
can be free to do whatever he pleases ; for if he were, he 
would be above the State. Neither can the citizens be free 
to interpret the laws of the State as they please ; for this 
would make every man judge in his own cause, and virtually 
independent of the State. It is for the State to determine 
what is just and unjust, and for the citizen to obey the law ; 
the will of the State must be the will of every citizen. If it 
be said that it is against reason thus to give up one s own 
judgment, the answer is that reason exhorts to peace and 
a secure life, which cannot be had except in a well-ordered 
State. The advantage of living under settled laws is far 
greater than any hardship which we may feel in a particular 
case from having to obey a law which we think unreasonable. 
This leaves it quite open to citizens to suggest amendments 
in existing laws, and endeavour by all peaceable means to 
procure them ; which is expressly mentioned in the Tracta- 
tus Theologico-Politicus as not only allowable but com 

Next the limits to the power of the State are considered. 
As the free or reasonable man is the strongest among men, 
so that State is strongest whose institutions are most accord 
ing to reason. For the strength of the State depends on the 
union of the citizens ; and union cannot be unless the laws of 

1 Cap. 3. 


the State are directed to the general good. Again, the sub 
jection of the citizen to the State consists either in fear of the 
power of the State or in love of civil society and order. 
Therefore the State has no jurisdiction over things to which 
men cannot be induced by reward or compelled by punish 
ment. No man can abandon, for example, his own power of 
judgment. Nobody can be compelled to believe that the 
whole is not greater than its part ; that God does not exist ; 
that a finite body before his eyes is infinite, and the like. 
Further, there are matters so repugnant to human nature in 
other ways that no power can compel obedience in them ; as, 
to produce evidence against oneself, to kill one s parents, not 
to attempt saving one s life, and the like. If we say not 
withstanding that the commonwealth hath right or power to 
command such things, we can no otherwise conceive this than 
as one might say that a man has a right to be mad. For 
what else than madness would be a rule of law to which no 
man can be bound ? In applying this test, however, we 
must consider the ordinary temper of men. There may 
always be some perverse or insane persons inaccessible to the 
motives upon which most men in most circumstances obey 
the law. But this does not prevent the law from being in 
general efficacious. As for the particular individual who sets 
himself against the State, as one having nothing to hope or 
fear from it, Spinoza says (in this point agreeing with Hobbes) 
that he may be considered as an enemy. Again, the power 
of the State is limited by public opinion ; such matters are 
not within the right of the State as excite a general opposi 
tion. For if a government issues commands which provoke 
many citizens to resistance, it thereby deprives itself at once 
of a certain measure of its power. 

As for the rights of independent States against one 
another, they are the same as thgse of individuals in the 
imaginary state of nature. Peace between States corresponds 
to society between individuals in so far that it rests upon con- 


sent. The obligation of treaties lasts as long as the reasons 
for which they were made, and no longer : a proposition 
which may be unacceptable to some theorists, but which has 
been abundantly verified in the history of Europe, and not 
less since Spinoza s time than before it. Indeed it seems 
impossible, on any political or ethical principles whatever, to 
lay it down as an absolute proposition that the obligation of 
treaties is perpetual. Whence can governments derive the 
right of binding their subjects and successors for all time by 
improvident undertakings ? 

It follows from the view already given of the functions of 
a commonwealth that the sovereign authority alone has the 
direction of public affairs, and that for any one to meddle 
with them unauthorized is a usurpation of government. 1 If 
it be asked whether the sovereign power in a commonwealth 
is bound by law, and capable of doing wrong, the answer is 
that civilly it is not so, but naturally it is. For if a common 
wealth were bound by no law or rule, without which it would 
not be a commonwealth, then we should have to regard a 
commonwealth not as a thing existing in nature but as a 
chimsera. Thus a commonwealth does wrong when by action 
or sufferance it brings in causes of its own destruction. 
Power is always limited by the capacities of the thing acted 
upon as well as the faculties of the agent. * If I say, for 
instance, that I may of right do as I will with this table, I 
suppose not thereby that I have a right to make the table eat 
grass. So the commonwealth cannot compel its citizens, 
being men, to a kind or extent of submission contrary to 
human nature. Therefore that the commonwealth may 
maintain its right, it is bound to maintain the motives of fear 
and respect ; otherwise it ceases to be a commonwealth. 
Nevertheless fundamental changes can be regularly effected 
only by the sovereign authority itself. Revolutions may in 

Cap. 4. 


extreme cases be necessary, but they are extra-legal and in 
the nature of acts of war. 

Spinoza then considers what is the best condition or ideal, 
as we should now say, of a government, 1 without regard to its 
particular form. This is a question of fact, not of right ; it is 
one thing to govern by law, another to govern well. The 
object of a commonwealth is peace and protection ; the 
excellence of a commonwealth consists therefore in men s 
living in amity and observing the law. For since men are by 
nature much the same everywhere, habitual discord and law- 
breaking are more the fault of institutions than of the particu 
lar offenders. And the peace here meant is a cheerful and 
rational acquiescence in the law, not a submission compelled 
by force. 

A commonwealth whose subjects rise not in arms because they 
are overcome by terror is rather to be spoken of as being without 
war than as enjoying peace. For peace is not mere absence of war, 
but an excellence proceeding from highmindedness ; since obedience- 
is the constant will to perform that which by the common ordinance 
of the State ought to be done. Moreover a commonwealth whose 
peace depends on the dulness of its subjects, and on their being 
driven like cattle, to learn nothing but slavery, is more fitly called a 
wilderness than a commonwealth. 2 When therefore we say that the 
government is best under which men lead a peaceable life, I mean 
that life of man which consisteth not only in the circulation of the 
blood and other properties common to all animals, but whose chief 
part is reason and the true life and excellence of the mind. 

In the same spirit he says again in the following chapter : 

If slavery, rudeness, and desolation are to be called peace, then 
is peace the most wretched state of mankind. Truly there are more 
and sharper disputes between parents and children than between 
masters and slaves ; and yet it were no good housekeeping to make 
the father into a master, and hold the children for slaves. It makes 
for slavery, not for peace, to confer unlimited power on one man. 

1 Cap. 5, De optimo imperil statu. 

2 Rectius solitudo quam civitas dici potest : with obvious allusion to the well- 
known solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant. 


Reference is made to Machiavelli in terms of great re 
spect, and Spinoza conjectures that his real purpose in elabo 
rately showing what means a prince who has no other motive 
than the lust of power should use to strengthen his govern 
ment may have been to point out the futility of removing a 
despot when the causes are left untouched which impel the 
ruler, whoever he may be, to reign despotically ; and perhaps 
also to warn free communities against putting themselves in 
the power of any one man. The true intention of Machia- 
velli s treatise has been a standing puzzle to modern critics, 
and Spinoza s guess is perhaps as good as any other. 

Before we leave the general part of the treatise, we may 
observe that if there be anything illiberal or tending to an 
apology for despotism in Spinoza s marked dislike to violent 
changes in affairs of State, the fault is shared by him with one 
of the most thoughtful of English Liberal statesmen of recent 
times. At the end of his Dialogue on the best form of govern 
ment Sir George Cornewall Lewis puts the following sentiment 
in the mouth of Crito, an impartial bystander whose opinions 
may fairly be taken as corresponding with those of the author 

Looking back upon the course of revolutionary movements and 
upon the character of their consequences, the practical conclusion 
which I draw is that it is the part of wisdom and prudence to 
acquiesce in any form of government which is tolerably well adminis 
tered and affords tolerable security to person and property. 

And we may add that, as matter of fact, the most success 
ful revolutions have been either re-assertions of ancient rights 
(as in England in 1688), or not merely domestic revolutions, 
but risings against a dominion which was actually or virtually 
foreign ; as in the struggle for the independence of the Nether 
lands, and the liberation of Italy in 1860. Cases of this kind 
are not considered by Spinoza, and, though not uncommon in 
history, scarcely belong to the theory of municipal politics. 

In the remainder of the Tractatus Politicus, as far as it 



goes, 1 the ideal institutions appropriate for the different forms 
of government are sketched out and justified. It is not worth 
while to follow Spinoza minutely through this part of his 
work ; we may be content with fixing our attention on a few 
salient points. Under the head of Monarchy it is repeated 
with some emphasis (and it would seem with implied criticism of 
Hobbes) that no one man can really be sovereign. A monarch 
must in practice be guided by counsellors, and thus a nomin 
ally absolute monarchy is a covert and therefore bad form of 
aristocracy. Accordingly Spinoza s ideal monarchy is limited 
in various ways. There is a great council roughly corres 
ponding to the Parliament of a modern constitutional system : 
it is however not elective, but appointed by the Crown, sub 
ject to fixed conditions as to age and otherwise. The Crown 
must take the advice of this assembly, but is free to act upon 
any opinion supported by a certain number of votes. A 
smaller standing Council is to take charge of executive busi 
ness and the routine of administration. The army is to con 
sist only of citizens, and to receive pay only in time of war ; 
and military commands are to be annual. Although this is 
to modern eyes one of the most unpractical points in Spinoza s 
scheme, it probably did not seem so at the time. Not only 
then, but throughout the eighteenth century, a standing army 
was the bugbear of constitutional theorists : and to this day 
the forms of the English constitution treat it as a temporary 
necessity rather than a constant part of the appliances of an 
independent State. As to ecclesiastical affairs, no particular 
religion is to be established by law, but the king may have a 
private chapel. 

Next comes the ideal aristocratic constitution, which is 
not unlike the monarchical in its general features ; the pre 
cautions and checks being however more elaborate. Aristo 
cracy is defined as the government in which the sovereign 
power belongs to a select number of the citizens who them- 

1 Capp. 6-1 1 : cap, II is unfinished. 


selves fix the terms of admission to the governing body. The 
number may be either small or large : indeed according to 
Spinoza s definitions the governing body might bear a larger 
proportion to the whole adult population in some aristocracies 
than in some democracies. There must be an established 
religion, for the sake of unity among the governing body, but 
of the simplest possible kind as to doctrine. Others are to 
be tolerated, but may not compete with the established one 
in public display. A conjecture is made as to the historical 
origin of aristocracies (c. 8, 12) which comes remarkably 
near what is now known or presumed to be the truth from the 
results of later researches. We have originally a homogeneous 
community of free men founding, let us suppose, a new city. 
As between themselves they are equal, and willingly recognize 
their equality. But strangers will gather round the original 
stock, attracted by various motives : and to these strangers 
equal rights will not be allowed, nor indeed will they seek 
them in the first instance. In course of time the new comers 
increase, and become assimilated to the original stock of the 
founders in everything but civil status and rights : till at last 
the difference between them appears conventional, and the 
community of free men with its outskirt of dependents has 
become a people governed by a favoured class. A few words 
are given by Spinoza to the subject of public instruction ; 
with a promise, unhappily not fulfilled, of resuming it in a 
future chapter. He expresses a decided opinion against 
official endowments, holding that State universities are estab 
lished not for the cultivation but for the repression of under 
standing and that every citizen should be free to teach in 
public at his own charges and his own risk. 

The polity for which an aristocratic government is best 
adapted is that which consists of several confederated cities of 
approximately equal power (c. 9) ; and further rules are given 
for this special case. One of them, namely, that the perma 
nent seat of the federal government must not be in any one 



of the united commonwealths, is in effect identical with the 
precaution observed by the founders of the United States in 
providing a seat of government exempt from the jurisdiction 
of any particular State, and subject to the exclusive authority 
of Congress. 

The general aim of all institutions, as well those expressly 
recommended as others * which may be devised in each several 
government agreeably to the nature of the country and the 
temper of the inhabitants, should be to lead men to obedience 
rather than compel them. 

A government which aims at nothing else than to guide men by 
fear will be rather free from defects than possessed of merit. Men 
are to be so guided as that they may deem themselves not to be 
guided, but to live after their own mind and of their own free 
resolve ; and that they be kept to allegiance by love of freedom, care 
for increasing their substance, and the hope of attaining honourable 
places in the government. But for statues, triumphs and other such 
whets to valour, they be tokens rather of slavery than of freedom. 
Rewards are ordained for the valour of servants, not of free men. 
I do confess that by spurs of this kind men are extremely quickened ; 
but such things, which at first are awarded to notable men, yet 
afterwards, as envy increaseth, are given to worthless fellows that are 
puffed up with wealth, whereby all honest people are in great indig 
nation. Likewise those who can make a show of their ancestors 
triumphs and statues think themselves to be wronged if they have 
not precedence over others. And lastly, to say no more, tis certain 
that equality (which once being cast off, the liberty of a society must 
needs perish) can by no means be preserved when especial honours 
are awarded as of common right to any one man of illustrious 

Passages like this are interesting as showing how very 
modern a good deal of our political experience is. Spinoza 
does not seem to contemplate the possibility of a social aris 
tocracy being combined with a system of equality before the 
law, and coinciding only in part with political eminence : nor 
does it occur to him that evils which now appear to us obvious 
enough arc likely to result from concentrating human ambi- 


tion and vanity on the one object of official power and dis 

Having explained his federal aristocracy, Spinoza declares 
with some confidence that a State framed on this model 
would be as stable as it is possible for a government to be, 
and could be dissolved only by some overwhelming external 
violence. He then passes on to democracy (c. 11). The de 
finition of democracy is peculiar; the criterion of a democratic 
government, as understood by Spinoza, being a franchise 
fixed by law. By franchise we do not mean a representative 
franchise in the modern sense (for of representative govern 
ment Spinoza seems to have no notion) but simply the right 
to take part, in some way or other, in the government of the 
country, which however would include the voting power of 
modern constitutions. Thus there may be a qualification by 
age, by primogeniture, or by payment of taxes to a certain 
amount, and it matters not whether the actual governing body 
thus constituted be large or small in proportion to the whole 
number of inhabitants. Even though the qualified citizens be 
fewer than the sovereign council might be in an aristocratic 
commonwealth of the same size, the government is still to be 
classed as democratic, because the citizens appointed to rule 
the commonwealth are not thereto chosen by a sovereign 
council as the fittest, but are appointed merely by the law. 
This definition includes, it is obvious, the most widely different 
political systems. To begin with, every form of representative 
government *& a democracy in Spinoza s sense ; the French 
monarchy under Louis Philippe, with its restricted pays legal, 
no less than England since the Reform Act of 1867, or the 
French Republic since 1871 with universal suffrage. But 
Spinoza announces it as his intention to treat only of one 
form of democracy, that namely in which all men indiffer 
ently who owe undivided allegiance to the State, are in other 
respects of legal capacity, and are of good conversation, are 
entitled to vote in the sovereign assembly and to undertake 


the offices of government. This is intended to exclude, as 
Spinoza explains, aliens, women, infants, serfs, and criminals. 
On the point of excluding women from political power he 
gives reasons in a separate paragraph, the last of the unfinished 
chapter. He puts it simply on the ground that men are the 
stronger ; not merely with their physical strength as indi 
viduals, but intellectually and in social combination. 

If women were by nature the equals of men, and equally 
endowed with firmness of mind and intellect, wherein chiefly consists 
human power, and consequently right, then surely among so many 
and various nations there should be found some where both sexes 
ruled equally, and others where men were ruled by women and so 
brought up as to be inferior to them in intellect. 

(This anticipates the topic much insisted on by some re 
cent advocates, that the general inferiority of women to men 
is entirely the result of education.) 

And seeing this hath nowhere come to pass, we may clearly 
affirm that women have not by nature an equal right with men, but 
must needs give place to them ; and hence that it is not possible the 
two sexes should bear rule equally, much less that men should be 
ruled by women. 

Further, a little consideration of human passions and 
jealousies will show that * equal rule of men and women can 
not have place without great prejudice to peace. It is open to 
supporters of female suffrage either to disregard Spinoza s ob 
jections as frivolous, and dismiss him, like other opponents, as 
a narrow-minded person, or to distinguish him on the ground 
that he was considering the question, not of a vote for repre 
sentatives, but of a direct and active participation in public 
affairs. It is more to our present purpose to remark that the 
objections, whatever may be thought of their merits, are not 
at all of the kind we should expect from a man answering to 
the popular notion of Spinoza, They are far from being ap 
propriate to a man who sits in a garret and spins metaphysical 
cobwebs. Indeed, with the exception of a reference to the 


fable of the Amazons in the pedantic manner of the time 
(which I have thought it needless to translate), they are such 
as might well be used at this day in the House of Commons. 
Here the treatise comes to an untimely end. It is not 
probable that Spinoza s account of an ideal democratic State 
would have contributed much to the science of politics, but 
we may still regret not having it. Some light might have 
been thrown on the question, at present obscure, what was the 
extent of Spinoza s familiarity with the public affairs of his 
own country. In dealing with a subject-matter more apt to 
be illustrated by domestic examples and, it would seem, more 
after his own heart than the discussion of monarchical and 
aristocratical institutions, he would have had a better occasion 
of showing his knowledge and opinions on matters of present 
interest. That he did not neglect the political writings of the 
time we know from a reference in the discussion of aristocracy 
(c. 8, 31) to an author mentioned by Spinoza as prudentissi- 
musBelgaV.H. This Pieter de la Court 1 ( 1618-1685), 
an eminent publicist who wrote under the initials D.C. (De la 
Court) V.H. (Van den Hove, the Dutch equivalent). He was 
a friend of John de Witt, and opposed to the party of the 
Stadtholders. The terms in which Spinoza, who is not lavish 
of praise, refers to De la Court are not without significance as 
to his own political sympathies. If, as divers excellent persons 
have maintained, Spinozism is in politics a doctrine of abso 
lutism, we are driven to conclude that Spinoza did not under 
stand his own philosophy, and in fact that he was the first anti- 
Spinozist. But the reader will now be in a position to judge 
this question even without referring to Spinoza s text. It 
sufficiently appears, I venture to think, not only that Spinoza 
was a firm and consistent supporter of political liberty, but 
that he was disposed to go much farther in letting individual 
thought, habits, and enterprise alone than the majority of 

1 I owe this identification (so far as I know hitherto unpublished) to Dr, 


statesmen of his own time. His condemnation of sumptuary 
laws must have appeared rash, his mistrust of State endow 
ments pedantic if not suspicious, and his notions of religious 
toleration wildly extravagant. Even his contention that in 
a monarchical State the monarch should be subject to the 
law was likely to be received with doubtful favour in some 
quarters. For various reasons his work has been eclipsed by 
that of Hobbes ; and in the actual history of the theory of 
politics it can hold orJy a rank subordinate to the * Leviathan. 
But the judgment of history is not always the judgment of 
philosophy. Hobbes power of reasoning and mastery of 
English command and deserve an admiration which it would 
be difficult to exaggerate. But Spinoza s doctrine rests on a 
wider and more generous view of human life ; it is less en 
cumbered with fictions ; it aims at a higher mark. It is the 
work, not of a powerful mind which has espoused the cause 
of a party and makes philosophy a partisan, but of a philo 
sopher who is proud of being a free citizen. 




One knocked at the Beloved s door ; and a voice asked from within, Who is 
there? and he answered, It is I. Then the voice said, This house will not 
hold me and thee. And the door was not opened. Then went the Lover into 
the desert, and fasted and prayed in solitude. And after a year he returned and 
knocked again at the door. And again the voice asked, Who is there ? and he 
said, It is Thyself ! and the door was opened to him. 


Rends-toi compte de Dieu. Comprendre, c est aimer. VICTOR HUGO : Les 
Contemplations, livre 3me, no. 8. 

IN various parts of Spinoza s work there are incidental dis 
cussions of prevailing theological conceptions, not so much by 
way of direct attack as for the purpose of explaining Spinoza s 
own different point of view. We have hitherto not noticed 
these passages. Their interest is perhaps more historical than 
philosophical, and moreover the consideration of Spinoza s 
metaphysical theory gave us quits enough to do without at 
tending at the time to his controversial digressions. But 
Spinoza s bearing towards the current theology of his time is 
an element of some importance in our knowledge of the man, 
and his position as regards religion in a wider sense excites 
questions which, even if it be impossible to answer them to our 
satisfaction, it is impossible to leave untouched. It has already 
been pointed out that Spinoza nowhere professes to attack 
theology in general, but only to refute the erroneous philoso 
phical doctrines attached to theology by particular Churches 
and theologians. He leaves no room, however, for a technical 
system of theology standing side by side with philosophy, 



whether as claiming to control it or merely to belong to a 
distinct and independent sphere of thought. Natural religion 
, is identical with philosophy, and the power of revealed religion 
consists not in adding new philosophical truth, or systematic 
truth of any kind, to that which reason can discover, but in 
showing men a way of salvation independent of philosophy. 
So far as theology is distinct from philosophy it is not a body 
of doctrine but a rule of life. Obedience is within every 
man s power, but not wisdom. This is the burden of the 
Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, and the severance of faith 
from philosophy there spoken of does not mean that what is 
disbelieved as matter of reason may be believed as matter of 
faith, but that when the distinct objects of the two are rightly 
understood no collision is possible. The whole scope of 
revelation is practical, and the claims of revealed religion to 
be accepted by mankind rest not on demonstrative but on 
moral certainty. We further collect that, apart from specu 
lative questions as to the actual truth of particular doctrines, 
it was in Spinoza s view a practical necessity that the great 
majority of mankind should have a dogmatic religion of some 
sort, but that he also thought it possible and desirable that 
the fundamental dogmas should be very few and simple. 1 
Similar assumptions are made in the treatise on Politics, as 
we saw in the last chapter. 

Now we cannot expect to learn the whole mind of Spinoza 
from the writings in which these statements occur. In the 
* Tractatus Politicus he professes to take men as he finds 
them ; in the Theologico-Politicus he is to a great extent 
conducting a hypothetical argument on premisses which he 
is content to assume by way of concession. He is addressing 
himself as a citizen to citizens and statesmen, not as a philo 
sopher to philosophers. On the other hand we cannot assume 
that the position taken by him for this purpose is to be set 
aside as merely occasional and hypothetical. The philoso- 

1 7ract. Theol.-Pol. cc. 13-15. 


phical criticism of the Ethics does not justify us in disre 
garding it : for, as Spinoza himself would have been the first 
to point out, the subject-matter of the two arguments is not 
the same. The Tractatus Theologico-Politicus affirms that 
a plain man who does not enter upon philosophy may without 
harm, or even with profit, believe whatever he finds most 
edifying, provided that he believes it sincerely and allows the 
like freedom to others. But it is clear enough that the author_ 
himself does not accept popular theology or the popular 
interpretation of Scripture ; and the discussion of current 
theological philosophy in the Ethics is only the develop 
ment of what is already suggested in the earlier work. Then 
we have a curious correspondence with Oldenburg on special 
points, belonging to the last year or two of Spinoza s life. 
Here, again, one cannot tell exactly how much allowance is 
to be made for Spinoza s desire to accommodate his expres 
sions of unwelcome opinions to his friend s habits of thought 
and language. 

There are two distinct things to be considered. The 
general discussion of propositions in theology, or in mixed 
theology and metaphysics, has a speculative value indepen 
dent of the conclusions we may form about Spinoza s exact 
personal relations to historical theology. But the place 
which religion and the religious sentiment held in Spinoza s 
individual life cannot be estimated without some endeavour 
to ascertain those relations, however difficult it may be. It 
will be best to take first that branch of the subject where we 
are on firmer ground, and the matter is of wider interest. 
We turn back, then, to the First Part of the Ethics. 

Spinoza maintains, as we have seen, the doctrine of a 
universal necessity which is identical with freedom when we 
s consider the universe as a whole. And he says (Pr. 17) that 
God acts merely by the laws of his own nature and without 
constraint ; and in this sense God alone can rightly be called 
a free cause, In other words, the order of the universe as a 


whole is self-contained and self-determined. Discussion 
follows in a Scholium. 

Others hold that God is a free cause, forasmuch as (in their 
opinion) he can bring it to pass that the things which, as we have 
said, follow from his nature or are in his power, do not happen or 
be not produced by him. But this is as if they should say that God 
could make it not to follow from the nature of a triangle that its 
three angles should be equal to two right angles ; or that from a 
given cause its effect should not follow, which is absurd. Also I 
shall prove below, without the help of this proposition, that neither 
understanding nor will belong to the nature of God. I know there 
are many who think they can prove that free-will and the height of 
understanding belong to the nature of God ; since, as they say, they 
know no greater perfection which they can attribute to God than 
that which is the highest perfection in ourselves. Again, though 
they conceive God as having in act the perfection of understanding, yet 
they believe not that he can make all those things 10 exist which 
he doth in act understand ; for thus they conceive the power of God 
would be taken away. If, they say, he had created all things that 
were in his understanding, then he could have created nothing more, 
which they hold repugnant to God s omnipotence. And so they have 
chosen to describe God as every way indifferent, and creating no 
thing else but what by a supposed absolute will he hath determined to 

But we have shown, Spinoza continues, that all things 
follow by the same necessity from the infinite nature or power 
of God ; so that the omnipotence of God is always and eter 
nally in act : whereas the other opinion really denies his 
omnipotence, for it is assumed that God cannot or must not 
create everything he has conceived, lest he should exhaust 
his omnipotence and make himself imperfect 

Therefore in order to affirm God s perfection these men 
are driven to affirm at the same time that he cannot bring 
about everything to which his power extendeth ; than which 
I see not what can be devised more absurd, or more repug 
nant to the omnipotence of God/ As for understanding and 
will in God, they must be wholly different from ours, and 
resemble them only in name. Human understanding is con- 


ditioned by the things understood ; the divine understanding 
is the cause and origin of them. It is also the cause of 
human understanding, and for that very reason must be 
different from it, as Spinoza proves by a curious piece of 
formal argument. But this is not all. Farther on he points 
out that both understanding and will are in every case parti 
cular determined modes of thought, having particular finite 
causes. They belong to natura natnrata, not to natura natu- 
rans. And accordingly will and understanding are related 
to the nature of God in the same way as motion and rest J 
and generally all things in nature, which must be determined 
by God to exist and act in a particular manner. For will, 
like all other things, needs a cause to determine it to exist 
and act. And though any particular act of will or under- . 
standing hath infinite consequences, yet God cannot therefore 
any more be said to act out of freedom of will than because 
of the consequences of motion and rest (which be likewise 
infinite) he can be said to act out of freedom of motion and 
rest. Wherefore will belongeth not to the nature of God 
more than other things in nature, but standeth with respect 
to it no otherwise than motion and rest and all other things, 
which we have shown to follow from the necessity of God s 
nature, and thereby to be determined to exist and act in a 
particular manner (Pr. 32, Coroll. 2). 

The next proposition affirms that things could not have 
been produced by God in any other manner or order than 
they have been produced/ And it is maintained (Schol. 2) 
that this doctrine, so far from detracting from the perfection 
of God, as many persons may hastily suppose, is required by 
it. Assume with the objectors that will belongs to the 
nature of God : it will be admitted that all things depend on 
his will for being what they are, and that his decrees are 
eternal ; for his mind cannot be supposed variable. ( But 
since in eternity there is not any when, or before, or after, it 

1 As to Spinoza s theory about motus et quies, see pp. 108-115 above. 


follows merely from the perfection of God that God never 
can or could decree otherwise than he doth ; or that God was 
not before his decrees, nor can be without them. To say 
that God might have made things otherwise than he did is to 
say that his will and understanding might have been other 
wise than they are. But this leads to inadmissible conse 
quences. It is agreed by all philosophers (Spinoza possibly 
is thinking of the Schoolmen as well of the Jewish Aristote 
lians) that the divine understanding is never inpotmtia\w\. 
always in actn. But since the will and understanding of God 
are indistinguishable from God himself, as is likewise ad 
mitted, it follows that if God s will and understanding had 
not been what they are, he must have been other than he is. 
That is, in order to make things otherwise than they are God 
himself must have been other than he is. But some will say 
that perfection itself depends on the will of God, and that 
what is now perfection might have been imperfection if he 
had thought fit so to make it. But this would amount to the 
assertion 4 that God, who must needs understand that which 
he wills, can by his will bring it to pass that he shall under 
stand things otherwise than he doth understand them. 
Which (as above shown) is an exceeding absurdity. 1 Then 
follows a very characteristic remark. 

( l confess this opinion, which doth subject all things to an 
alleged indifferent will of God and holdeth everything to depend on 
his pleasure, is less wide of the truth than the opinion of those who 
hold that all God s actions have regard to a rule of good (Deum 
omnia sub ratione boni agere). For such men seem to affirm some 
what outside God, and not dependent on him, which God keeps 
before him as a pattern in his works, or at which he aims as at a 
fixed mark. This plainly is naught else than to make God subject to 
fate ; than which nothing more absurd can be propounded of God, 
whom we have shown to be the first and singular free cause of all 
things, both as to their essence and as to their existence/ 

1 With the whole passage compare and contrast St. Thomas Aquinas, Sttmma 
Theologite Part i, Quaest. 19, artt. 2-5, 


Spinoza here repudiates two popular conceptions of the 
Deity in one breath ; one which makes him an absolute ruler 
whose only law is his own will, and another which regards 
him as constantly fulfilling a moral law conceived as in some 
way independent of him. In the one view he is a despotic 
monarch, in the other a governor bound by an unchangeable 
constitution. The world is his plaything, or an inscrutable 
something is his master. In the latter case, the only evidence 
we have of the ultimate sovereignty of the moral law is in 
. the human conscience : and hence it would seem that con 
science must be the judge of God as well as of man. And 
this may really be the view obscurely held by a large number 
of the right-minded persons who accept theology in its ordi 
nary forms, even those who would verbally assert the other 
opinion, namely, that the moral law is what it is because God 
has chosen to make it so. For though many say that moral 
commandments are binding because they express the will of 
God, few of those who say so would not also say that the will 
of God is always good ; where the meaning of good might 
indeed be vague, but at any rate would be something more 
than the name of that which God wills. 

A more philosophical variety of this opinion is to go so 
far with Spinoza as to say that the order of nature, and the 
moral law as part thereof, belongs to the nature of God itself ; 
and then to add that the moral law appertains in some 
peculiar and eminent way to the nature of God, so as to 
make him the proper object of a feeling similar in kind to 
that which we entertain for good men, but infinitely magnified 
in degree. This position, or something like it, is adopted by 
divers modern theologians. It is free from the metaphysical 
absurdity pointed out by Spinoza in the cruder form of moral 
theology, but raises difficulties of another kind. The objects 
of morality being particular and relative to man, there appears 
to be no convenient mean between refraining from the 
application of moral ideas to the order of nature as a whole, 


and asserting that the universe exists for the sake of man. 
This last position was formerly thought acceptable or even 
obvious, but for several reasons there is a growing disinclina 
tion to defend it. Again, it is not impossible to deny in terms 
that morality is relative to human society. But those who 
do this must be prepared to show us the universal morality 
of which human morality is only a particular case, or at least 
to bring forward some probable evidence of it. They should 
be able to explain, for instance, in what sense morality existed 
in the world before any human society was formed. So far, 
however, from feeling any difficulty on this score, they would 
in general be the first to proclaim the dignity of man as the 
only moral creature, and to exalt him above all other finite 
beings precisely on that ground. On this point also it is 
hard to be sure whether people really accept everything they 
piofess. The universality of the moral law may be asserted in 
words, while the real meaning is only that there are per 
manent elements in human nature and society to which there 
correspond permanent moral relations, or that the broad 
groundwork of morality could not be different from what it is 
unless human nature were also different. But this is a pro 
position which at the present day nobody will dispute, least 
of all anyone who has apprehended the lessons of Spinoza s 
< Ethics. In the same way the_ principles of right and wrong 
may be called eternal and immutable in a sense to which no 
serious exception can be taken, namely, that these principles 
are necessary consequences of the constitution of man, which 
itself is part of the universal order of nature, and that they 
are as permanent as mankind itself. It is possible that some 
of those who speak as if they thought the scientific discussion 
of ethical theories dangerous to morality may imagine that 
these last-mentioned propositions are attacked, and may wish 
only to defend them when they put forward statements of 
apparently wider scope. Certainly it is not an uncommon 
mistake to fancy that everyone who does not accept some 


transcendental theory of ethics must regard morality as 
casual and conventional, and variable in every new set of cir 
cumstances : whereas if it were possible to regard morality as 
casual and conventional, it would be by means of the assump 
tion that moral law is nothing but the commandment of a 
being who gives no reason for his commands, but will crush 
us if we disobey. 

But we cannot here attempt to pursue this topic farther, 
and indeed the task might prove endless. There are no 
harder illusions to get rid of than anthropomorphic ones (or 
perhaps it would be better to say anthropocentric) ; and there 
is no reason to suppose that the possible and more or less 
plausible forms of such illusion are either exhausted or 
exhaustible. As to the modern transcendental theories of 
superhuman morality which claim to be founded on a strictly 
philosophical method, it may be a sufficient excuse for saying 
nothing of them that they have no point of contact with 
Spinoza. But one may observe that a transcendental theory 
is by its very nature a kind of deus ex machina. Disproof 
may be impossible ; in fact, I should be disposed to say 
that if any transcendental theory is capable of actual dis 
proof, it can only be the result of bad workmanship. But 
the burden of proof lies on the transcendentalist to show that 
his deus ex machina is necessary ; at least that is the opinion 
of people who have not the transcendental faculty. 

We have now seen that according to Spinoza the actions 
of God are not directed by a will that can even be supposed 
mutable, by anything that can be called choice, or towards a 
moral end. But he further says that they are not directed 
towards ends at all. In more technical words, he wholly 
rejects Final Causes. To most English minds it may possibly 
seem that the exclusion of deliberation and choice from the 
order of the universe would of itself imply the exclusion of 
final causes. But recent speculation in Germany has shown 
that it does not : and Spinoza s appendix to the First Part of 


the Ethics * is not only a vigorous piece of controversial ex 
position which as a work of art one would be sorry to lose, but 
it is by no means philosophically superfluous. His professed 
object is to expose the prejudices which lie at the root of most 
confused thinking about the order of nature. All the preju 
dices, he says, which I here mean to lay bare depend on this 
point only ; to wit, that men commonly suppose all things in 
nature to act as themselves do for a purpose ; insomuch that 
they make sure that God himself orders all things for some 
fixed end (for they say that God made all things for man s 
sake, and man to worship him). The origin and the ground 
lessness of this belief are accordingly to be explained. Men 
think themselves_jree^ and actjwith a view to somedesired 
end. Thus they come to regard the purpose of an action as 
a necessary and sufficient explanation of the action. If in a 
particular case they can get no positive inToimation of the 
purpose, they form a conjecture from the analogy of the 
motives by which they have themselves on other occasions 
been ^determined to actions of the same kind. Then, find 
ing so many things in nature useful for man s life, they 
regard all things as instruments for man s use ; and know 
ing that they found and did not make these conveniences, 
they infer that some ruler of the world, having freedom like 
that of human agents, must have made them of set purpose 
for the benefit of mankind. Proceeding to guess at this! 
ruler s motives from the analogy of their own, they form the; 
opinion that the Gods ordered thejworld for man s use that 
so they might acquire men s gratitude and have honour and 
worship of them. 

And so this prejudice hath grown to a superstition 
and struck root deep in their minds ; which was a reason 
moving every one to extreme diligence in considering and 
explaining the final^ causes of all thmgs. But whereas they 
sought to show that naturS"o!otri^riot anything in vain (that 
is, without regard for the use of mankind) they have shown 


nothing, as it seems, but that nature and the Gods, if this 
were so, should be as distraught as themselves. Mark, I pray 
you, to what a pass the matter comes at last. Among so 
many conveniences of nature they must needs find not a few 
things contrary, as storms, earthquakes, plagues and the like, 
and these they affirmed to happen for that the Gods were 
angered for wrongs done them by men, or faults in performing 
their rites ; and though experience did every day protest, 
showing by numberless examples that good and ill turns be 
fall the obedient and the disobedient indifferently, nevertheless 
they ceased not from their confirmed prejudice. For it was 
easier to assume that mischievous things had unknown uses 
than to reconstruct their habits of thought : and so the 
further assumption was made that the counsels of the Gods 
were beyond human understanding : which cause would 
have alone sufficed to hide the truth for ever from mankind, 
had not the mathematics, which are concerned not with 
designed ends, but only with the nature and properties of 
figures, made manifest to them another pattern of truth. 

Spinoza then argues, in his usual concise manner, that the 
doctrine of final causes is in itself untenable : among other 
reasons, it is mconsistent with the perfection of God : for if 
God acts for a designed end, it must needs be that he desireth 
something which he hath not. And it is observed that a 
common way of defending final causes is by a method other 
wise unknown of reduction, not to impossibility but to 
ignorance. For example, a tile falls from a roof on a man s 
head and kills him. It shall be proved by this method that 
it fell on purpose to kill him : for if that had not been God s 
design, how could all the conditions for the event concur then 
and there ? You may answer, it happened because the wind 
blew and the man was passing that way. They will stand to 
it with another question : why did the wind blow, and why 
was the man going by just then ? If you assign fresh reasons, 
they will again ask new questions, as they always can, since 


of questioning there is no end : and so they will never cease 
asking for the causes of causes, until you take flight to that 
sanctuary of ignorance which they call the will of God. 
And thus it happens that to seek out the causes of what seems 
wonderful, and to aim at understanding the operations of 
nature instead of staring in dull amazement, is to incur the 
suspicion of heresy. For those who are commonly esteemed 
the sole expounders of divine truth well know that the 
destruction of ignorance is the destruction of fear, on which 
their power is built. 

It is then _explaine.d how current notions of beauty, 
ugliness, and the like, are relative to men s organs and dis 
positions. This part of the appendix is a rapid sketch in 
anticipation of what is given at large in the following books 
of the Ethics, and we therefore need not dwell upon it : 
some expressions, however, are remarkable for their affinity 
to recent psychological theories independently worked out 
from the side of physical science. If the motion impressed 
on the optic nerves by the objects that the eyes perceive be 
such as promotes health, the objects which cause it are named 
beautiful ; those which excite the opposite kind of motion 
are called ugly. Hence appears the answer to the common 
difficulties touching the perfection of the world. If, it is 
asked, everything is the result of God s perfection, whence 
come the many imperfections of nature, corruption, ugliness, _ 
disorder, evil, sin ? But this is to confuse the nature of things 
with human imaginations of them. 

The perfection of things is to be reckoned only from their own , 
^nature and power ; and things are not therein more or less perfect 
that they delight or offend the sense of men, or that they are con 
venient for the nature of man or repugnant thereto. If any ask, why 
God hath not so created all men that they should be governed only 
by reason ? I give them no answer but this : Because he lacked not 
matter for creating all things, even from the highest degree of per 
fection unto the lowest. Or more exactly thus : Because the laws 
of his own nature were so vast as to suffice for producing all things 


which can be conceived by an infinite understanding (ab aliquo 
infinite intellects, : a hypothetical infinite mind which must be dis 
tinguished from the infinite intellect which we have" met with as one 
of the things immediately produced by God. ) 

From the universal point of view perfection is fulness of 
/iCbeing, and has rTofhingjtojdo witrTEFe perfection that is rela- 
! five to man s use or convenience. 

So far Spinoza s general criticism of theological ideas. It 
enables us to say with reasonable certainty, up to a certain 
point, what the God of Spinoza is not. He is free, but not 
exercising choice ; for all his works are necessary, and the 
law of their necessity is the law of his own being. His acts 
do not spring from design ; where there is no choice there can 
be no deliberation, and a being which embraces the^ universe 
is sufficient to its^i He is ffef a moi^eiRg ST&eSfe of 
having preferences ; for with respect to God all things are 
perfect in their kind. Even understanding and will cannot 
be said to belong to his nature. In short, the God of Spinoza 
is not the personal God often said to be required by 
innate religious sentiment of man. But if he is thus imper- 
"""ional, it would be misleading, and not in accordance with 
Spinoza s turn of thought, to say that he is unconscious. It 
is true that understanding, as a determined mode of thought, 
belongs only to determined things. Even the infinite intellect 
which includes all thought and consciousness is a particular 
thing. The object of these distinctions, however, is partly to 
secure the equality of all the Attributes, of which we have 
already spoken. It remains a cardinal point of the system 
that God is a thinking being who can think infinitely in infi 
nite ways (Eth. 2, Pr. 3). This does not involve, it is true, 
the supposition of a consciousness analogous to human con 
sciousness. Such a supposition is quite inadmissible on 
Spinoza s principles ; for human consciousness is a state of a 
mental organism, answering in the Attribute of thought to a 
state of the human body in the Attribute of extension. And 


God s consciousness could be like man s only if the material 
universe were organized like a human body; which some 
enthusiasts have indeed in later times been found to affirm. 
It is stated however in one of the latest propositions of the 
Ethics, already cited (Pt. 5, Pr. 40), that the human mind so far 
as it understands is an eternal mode of thought which together 
with endless other such modes makes up the eternal and 
infinite understanding of God. All human knowledge, then, " 
is not only contained but in some manner united and as it 
were incorporated in this infinite understanding. The mind 
of God gathers up into an eternal unity the true ideas of all 
finite minds in all time. And also, since every idea or mode 
of thought is said to be true with respect to God, in that it 
really exists and corresponds to a really existing mode of Ex 
tension, 1 it would seem that every finite mode of thought what 
ever, whether in a conscious finite mind or not, must have its 
due place somewhere in the infinite chain. All this will doubt 
less appear obscure. I can only say that Spinoza has left it 
so, and that it does not seem to me worth while to attempt to 
force an illusory definiteness upon that which is incapable 
of definition. The difficulties of Spinoza s theory of the 
eternity of the mind, which of course would recur here, have 
already been pointed out. 

It is clear, on the whole, that the real difference between 
Spinoza and the common forms of orthodox philosophy is 
noJL_that he denies consciousness to God, for this he never 
does ^ or that_hejienies God s consciousness to be like man s, 
for this many orthodox philosophers would also deny, and 
theologians of the weightiest authority have in fact denied it 
as strongly as Spinoza himself. The point _of_his heterodoxy M 
is_ha.tjie will not call God j^cjujiy^lyj3r _eminently a think- j \ 
ing being. To say that God is a spirit is in Spinoza s view 
just as inadequate and misleading as to say that man is a 
spirit. Man is a thinking being, but he is also a corporeal or 

1 See p, 196, above. 
A A 


extended being; and thought is only one of the infinite 
/Attributes of God. But here there recurs another point of 
which we have already treated, namely the latent idealism 
of Spinoza s metaphysical system, which may have coloured 
his thought on this subject almost without his knowing it. 
Perhaps he regarded the infinite variety of the universe 
(including as it does in his view countless forms of existence 
to us wholly unimaginable) as reflected and redoubled, and at 
the same time grasped as a single whole, in the infinite in 
tellect of God. 5 But all this, again, comes perilously near to 
a mere playing with words. 

The discussion of Spinoza s metaphysic in its bearing on 
theology is much complicated by his having no philosophical 
term equivalent to the modern consciousness, and generally 
not regarding things from that point of view. In one passage 
of his early work, the Cogitata Metaphysica (Part 2, c. 8, i) 
he does mention the term Personality as being used by theo 
logians to explain their distinction of qualities or attributes 
(in the common sense) in God. He adds that the term is as 
mysterious to him as the mystery it is intended to explain, 
and that further light is to be hoped for only in the beatific 
vision ( * quamvis constanter credamus in visione Dei bea- 
tissima quae fidelibus promittitur Deum hoc suis revelatu- 
rum ). 

Now an appeal to revelation, either here or hereafter, for 
enlightenment on a philosophical question is a thing utterly 
contrary to Spinoza s later principles, as abundantly appears 
from the ( Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. And this passage 
occurs in a work where Spinoza is not expressing his own 
opinions, except so far as he can suggest them in a pro 
fessedly Cartesian commentary without actually contradicting 
Descartes. Either the passage is ironical, hinting to the dis 
ciple of Descartes that his master has brought him to a theo- 
logico-philosophical deadlock whence nothing but a revelation 
will help him out : or (as I think more probable) it was 


written by Spinoza at a very early time, when he was still 
disposed to believe in mysteries. At the date of the Essay 
of God and Man he seems to have thought it possible that 
new Attributes might become known to man by revelation ; 
for in one place (Part i, c. 7, note) he speaks of Thought 
and Extension as the only Attributes as yet known to us. 

It is remarkable that the theological colouring of Spinoza s 
philosophy becomes fainter as we proceed in the Ethics, 
and in the third and fourth Parts Deus appears more and 
more like a bare synonym for natura. But then, just as one 
might begin to think that the verbal disguise has been com 
pletely thrown off, we come upon the intellectual love of God - 
in the fifth Part. After all God has not been reduced to 
Nature, but Nature exalted to God. Spinoza begins and 
ends with theological terms ; and yet, when we translate his 
doctrines into modern language, we find a view of the world 
standing wholly apart from those which have been pro 
pounded or seriously influenced by theology. His earlier 
writings help us to understand the seeming riddle. He 
started with the intention of making theology philosophical, 
but with the determination to follow reason to the uttermost. 
Reason led him beyond the atmosphere of theology altogether, 
but his advance was so continuous that the full extent of it 
was hardly perceived by himself. 

Those to whom names are important may be left to settle 
as best they can by what name Spinoza s doctrine shall be 
called. Most people call it Pantheism. There is no particu 
lar harm in this, except that Pantheism is so vague a term as 
to be applicable and applied to diametrically opposite theories, 
For example, the Hindu philosophers of the orthodox Brah- 
manical schools are in a general way pantheists, and are 
commonly so named. But they hold that all finite existence 
is an illusion, and life mere vexation and mistake, a blunder 
or sorry jest of the Absolute. We need hardly repeat that 
Spinoza holds nothing of the kind. So that when somebody 


talked a while ago of Pantheism from the Vedas to 
Spinoza/ he might as well have talked of the law of evidence 
from Manu to the Indian Evidence Act, as far as any logical 
connexion went : to say nothing of the circumstance that the 
Vedas are many centuries earlier than systematic Hindu 
philosophy, and the earliest parts of them are not pantheistic. 
Again, the Stoics were also pantheists : only they went to the 
other extreme and held that the universe was the product of 
perfect reason and in an absolute sense good. A description 
which includes these opinions as well as Spinoza s cannot be 
of much use for conveying exact information. And then it 
is difficult to say how far Theism does or does not overlap 
Pantheism. Lately Mr. Fiske of Harvard has written a very 
lucid and systematic work, setting forth a view of the nature 
of things identical in the main with Mr. Herbert Spencer s, 
and he calls his view Cosmic Theism. Now it is certain that 
Mr. Spencer s and Mr. Fiske s doctrine excludes the belief in 
a so-called Personal God, and the particular forms of religious 
emotion dependent on it. Whether any large number of 
people will agree to use the name of Cosmic Theism for the 
doctrine I do not know, and cannot pretend to care very 
much. But it is evident that Spinoza must be called a 
Theist by such persons, be they many or few ; since his ideas 
are not less theological than Mr. Fiske s, and his language 
more so. Then there is the facile and once frequent name ot 
Atheism, which however polite and intelligent persons have 
lately shrunk from using. This is just as well, as it is not 
only an ugly name, but has no intelligible meaning. At least 
the nearest approach to a definition that I can suggest is 
that an atheist means anybody who disagrees with one on any 
f theological question of importance ; the speaker being, of 
course, the judge both of what questions are theological, and 
whether they are important enough to call names about. 
Probably the historical meaning is definite enough, namely, a 
citizen who refuses to worship the Gods appointed "to be 


iies of^hi^city. But to apply this 
in England at the present day would obviously lead us into 
great incivility towards classes of persons who are not only 
respectable and influential, but quite orthodox as orthodoxy 
has been understood ever since the Act of Toleration. 1 As 
for Agnosticism, we may be allowed to put off any discussion 
of this last addition to the vocabulary of sects and persuasions 
till some one has called Spinoza an Agnostic. In fine, we 
conclude that to dwell on these matters of nomenclature is 
unprofitable : and we .decline, for similar reasons, to enter on 
the question, on which chapters if not volumes might be 
spent, whether Spinoza s way of looking at the world and 
man is to be called a religion or not. If it is fitted (with 
allowances and additions according to the state of knowledge 
for the time being) for the use of reasonable men in the con 
duct of life, sooner or later reasonable men will find it out 
and use it, under whatever name. If it is not, reasonable 
men will not be persuaded to use it by the most positive and 
formal proof that it satisfies at all points the best possible 
definition of a religion. 

We may now go on to consider Spinoza s utterances as to 
the particular revelations on which the claims of Judaism and 
Christianity, the only historical religions with which he was 
acquainted, are commonly made to stand. It is needless to 
say that the materials for a comparative study of religions 
were not accessible in Spinoza s time. The religions of the 
East were known only by loose and superficial report, and this 
was especially the case with Buddhism, the most important of 
all. Spinoza probably knew of its existence (in his letter to 
Albert Burgh he specifies India as the seat of divers re 
ligions) ; but of its origin, its fundamental doctrines, and the 
personal character of its founder as preserved by tradition, he 
can have known nothing. Indian Buddhism, indeed, remained 

1 Yet the term atheist appears to include even now, in the borough of Chelsea 
and at the time of a general election, a member of the Society of Friends, 


a sealed book to European scholars long after his time. 1 This 
has to be borne in mind if we undertake to reduce Spinoza s 
judgments to the measure of our own time. In the first 
chapter of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, where the 
nature of prophecy is discussed, the revelation of the Deca 
logue occurs as a question to be specially dealt with. It is the 
opinion of some Jewish authors, Spinoza says, that the words 
of the commandments were not actually pronounced by God, 
but the Israelites heard an inarticulate noise, while at the same 
time the commandments were inwardly perceived by them. 

* And this (he proceeds) I myself once thought, since I found 
the words of the decalogue in Exodus different from those in 
Deuteronomy; whence it seems to follow (since God spoke but 
once) that the decalogue was to lay down not the very words of 
God but only the meaning. However, if we are not to do violence 
to Scripture, it must certainly be allowed that the Israelites heard a 
real voice. 

This voice we must suppose to have been created for 
that occasion. But this supposition is by no means free from 
difficulty : for how could this finite and created voice give the 
Israelites any rational certainty of the existence or nature of 
God beyond what they had before ? And moreover the whole 
narrative suggests not only that there was a real voice, but 
that God himself spoke in the fashion of a man. Wherefore 
I doubt not, Spinoza concludes, ( that herein lies a mystery, 
of which we will speak more at large afterwards. Are we to 
infer that Spinoza thought it proper on this point to follow 
the example set by Ibn Ezra on other points of historical cri 
ticism ? By talking of a mystery does he simply mean, as Ibn 
Ezra meant beyond question, that he does not choose to ex 
plain himself further ? Certainly he has brought together 
precisely the kind of evidence, and suggested precisely the 
kind of considerations, which a modern critic would bring for- 

1 The Buddha appears in Montesquieu (doubtless through Jesuit accounts of 
Chinese Buddhism) as Foe, legislateur des Indes. Esprit des Lois, book 14, c. 
5. Cp. note B to Bayle s article on Spinoza, 


ward to show that the whole narrative is an anthropomorphic 
myth. The hypothesis he actually gives is a sort of ration 
alized miracle : since God does not speak like men, he must 
have specially ordained that the Israelites should hear certain 
words pronounced as by a magnified human voice. It is ex 
tremely difficult to believe that this really commended itself 
to Spinoza. Again, it sufficiently appears from other parts of 
the treatise that in Spinoza s eyes the pre-eminence of the 
Jews as the chosen people was a fact to be studied and ex 
plained on the ordinary principles of historical and political 
reasoning. The divine election of the Hebrew nation is iden 
tified, as we should now say, with natural selection. Again, 
the whole and only scope of revelation, in the view set forth 
by Spinoza in various parts of the treatise, is to assure men 
that there is a way of salvation by obedience without specula 
tive knowledge. And this obedience does not consist in fol 
lowing any particular set of precepts, but in the exercise of 
justice and charity. The only necessary and really catholic 
faith is summed up in this : that there is a supreme being, 
loving justice and charity, whom all men are bound to obey 
that they may be saved, and to worship by showing justice 
and charity to their neighbours. (c. 14, 24). Philosophical 
questions as to the nature and attributes of God are indifferent 
to faith. 

Whether he be fire, spirit, light, thought, or otherwise, is of no 
account to faith ; nor yet in what manner he is the type of the right 
life, for example, whether because he hath a just and merciful mind, 
or because by him is the being and operation of all things, and 
through him therefore we also have understanding, and through him 
perceive that which is true, just, and good : to faith it is all one what 
every man holds touching these things. So again it is indifferent to ^ 
faith whether one believe that God is everywhere essentially or 
potentially ; that he governs nature freely or by the necessity of his 
own nature ; that he dictates laws as a prince, or shows them as 
eternal truths ; that men obey God from absolute free will, or by 
necessity of the divine ordinance ; that the reward of good and 
punishment of wicked men is natural or supernatural. 


Thus, too, it is not the business of revelation to give 
rational demonstrations but to move men to obedience. And 
here is the answer to the difficulties formerly raised about the 
voice from Sinai. 

* Although the voice which the Israelites heard could not have 
given them any philosophical or mathematical certainty of the exist 
ence of God, yet it sufficed to ravish them with amazement at God s 
power (such as they already knew him), and to impel them to 
obedience ; which was the purpose of that display. For God s will 
was not to show the Israelites the attributes of his nature as they are 
in themselves (seeing he did not as then reveal any), but to break 
their stubborn mind and draw it to obedience ; and so he went to 
work with them not with arguments, but with the blast of trumpets, 
thunder, and lightnings. 

This, it will be observed, removes only half the difficulty. 
The other half is not touched either in the chapter on miracles 
or elsewhere. Remembering that the Tractatus Theologico- 
Politicus is a work of conciliation, we may conclude without 
much hesitation that Spinoza did not himself regard the cir 
cumstances of the Mosaic revelation as historical. 

When in the following chapter he speaks of the necessity 
and authority of revelation, he passes over the thunders of 
Sinai, and only adduces in general terms the testimony of the 
prophets. And the prophets he regards (herein pretty much 
following Maimonides) as men gifted with a particularly strong 
and vivid imagination, which became the instrument of a kind 
of special insight ; the prophet s individual character, educa 
tion and habits colouring all his visions and determining the 
form in which they were recorded. On this point also the 
question occurs whether Spinoza is giving his own opinion, or 
only aims at giving the most rational theory within the limits 
of certain assumptions he has imposed on himself for a special 
purpose. It is almost impossible to draw the line between 
these two positions in the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, 
and I doubt whether Spinoza always drew it himself, 


The passage on the general necessity of revelation to 
which attention has just been called deserves further con 
sideration. It has been seen that the foundation of theology 
and the sum of faith is thaTTmen can be saved by mere 
obedience without knowledge. Not that obedience is the 
only way ; for knowledge leads to the same life and the same 
salvation, as Spinoza is careful to explain. But this efficacy 
of obedience is not demonstrated : it may be asked then, why 
do we believe it ? If blindly and without reason, then we act 
foolishly ; if on the other hand we say it is capable of proof, 
theology is absorbed in philosophy. 

Now to this I answer, I clearly hold that this fundamental doctrine 
of theology cannot be discovered by natural reason, at least there 
hath no man been found to demonstrate it, and therefore revelation 
was highly necessary \ but nevertheless we may so use our judg 
ment as to accept the revelation once made with at least a moral 
certainty, I say moral certainty : for we cannot look to have greater 
certainty herein than the prophets themselves to whom it was first 
revealed, and whose certainty was yet but moral, as we have already 
shown. Wherefore those go clean astray who endeavour to prove 
the authority of Scripture by arguments of the mathematical kind. 
.... And we may reasonably embrace this fundamental position of 
theology and Scripture, though it cannot be mathematically proved. 
It is folly to reject merely for this cause that which is confirmed by 
the witness of so many prophets, from which flows great comfort to 
men who do not excel in understanding, and to the commonwealth 
ensues no small advantage ; and which we may believe without any 
hurt or danger ; as if for the rational conduct of life we could admit 
nothing as truth which on any plausible ground may be called in 
doubt, or as if the greater part of our actions were not uncertain and 

Once more, at the end of the chapter Spinoza repeats that 
he attaches the highest value to revealed religion in the sense 
we have just explained. 

Since we cannot perceive by the light of nature that mere 
obedience is a way to salvation, but only revelation teaches that this is 
brought to pass by the singular grace of God, which our reason can- 


not attain, it appears by consequence that the Scriptures have 
brought exceeding comfort to mankind. All men without exception 
can obey, and thef~15e~l5ut a very few, compared with the whole of 
human kind, who acquire a virtuous disposition by the guidance of 
reason : so that if we had not this witness of Scripture, we should 
doubt of the salvation of nearly all men. 

Two points of some interest are left unexplained by this 
statement, namely, the precise meaning of salvation or being 
saved, and how, if at all, the facts of revelation or the truth 
revealed can be expressed in philosophical language. In the 
first question there is nothing to detain us. For Spinoza 
salvation cannot mean anything else than that deliverance 
from the passions to which the other way, the clear but 
arduous way of reason, is shown in the Ethics. But of 
revelation what are we to understand ? E[pw can God as con- 

^ * M^^M-M^A-^ttM*!^ 

^ceived by Spinoza, the being in whom is the infinite reality of 
infinite worlds, whose freedom is the necessity of the universe, 
to whose nature neither understanding nor will must be specially 
ascribed, reveal particular truths or duties to men by particular 
acts of grace ? Again^the alleged conten^s_of_revelation are 
hardl^adequateTo the machinery. It seems paradoxical, or 
at least not consistent with Spinoza s general way of think 
ing, to call in the Law and the Prophets to assure us that the 
reward of a tranquil mind may be earned by righteousness 
and goodwill without philosophy: for this is what the mes 
sage of Scripture seems to come to, when we substitute for the 
term salvation the meaning almost certainly attached to it by 
Spinoza. Is this a matter to learn from signs and wonders ? 
or, thinking and saying what he does of signs and wonders in 
general, can Spinoza really mean to assert the supernatural 
communication of this one point of practical knowledge ? 
On the other hand, the words are express and even emphatic : 
and we have no right to sacrifice Spinoza s good faith to the 
dogma of his rigid consistency, which has arisen, as I have 
already had occasion to point out, from attaching exaggerated 


importance to the geometrical form used in the Ethics. 
Perhaps we are free to suppose that Spinoza regarded revela 
tion as the manifestation of a particular kind of human 
genius, the disclosure of moral truth by an insight natural in 
its presence and operation, but occurring only in a few men. 
But if prophecy be simply a kind of genius, why should it 
have ceased ? And why does Spinoza lay so much stress on 
the necessity of the true prophet s doctrine being confirmed 
by a sign ? In order to dispose of modern impostors, one 
might think at first sight. But he must have well known 
that professing prophets are never at a loss for a sign ; and 
moreover he has a much shorter way with new propounders of 
revelations, as we saw in considering his theory of politics. 
Altogether the difficulty remains considerable. There is an 


Tractatus Theologicp-PoHtjcus/ which goes a long way, 
but refuses to go alHengths. and the thorough-going specula 
tion of the Ethics. Difference of dates will not account for 
it, since we know that Spinoza s philosophy was matured long 
before the Theologico-political Treatise was published. 

The difficulty, however, applies only to our estimate of 
Spinoza s personal opinions. For philosophical criticism the 
Tractatus Theologico-Politicus may be taken by itself, and 
anything propounded or suggested by it may be adopted or 
left aside on its own merits. And the view of revelation 
there put forward seems to contain at least this truth : that 
the appearance of a religion which puts a moral law before 
ceremonies, and organizes morality instead of merely organiz 
ing sacrifices, processions, penances, miracles, indulgences, is a 
capital fact in the history of the world. The religion which 
reaches this height, whether gradually or by the first impulse 
of a founder, is vital and has the means of victory. Judaism, 
Buddhism, Christianity, to some extent Mahometanism, 
possess or have possessed this power. It is true that religion 
always tends, in the hands of its ordinary ministers (who can- 


not as a rule be more than ordinary men), to revert to the 
ceremonial stage. It is also true that the opposite danger of 
mysticism is ever present. But when a religion has once been 
or become moral, there is always room for men of moral 
genius to arise within it and revive the latent power. This 
they do at the risk of being misunderstood and disowned ; in 
some cases they find themselves cut off altogether, and found 
a new religion or communion ; in others the Church is wise 
in time, and their work is openly or tacitly accepted . Thus 
Judaism underwent a great moral transformation in the hands 
of the prophets, but not without great struggles ; and again, 
at the very time when the Jewish polity was doomed to final 
destruction, the moral side of Jewish religion received a 
further development the results of which have never been lost. 
On the other hand Buddhism owes its independent existence 
to Brahman jealousy and exclusiveness ; it appears, at least, 
that the Buddha had for himself no intention of going out 
side the very large bounds of Hindu orthodoxy. In our own 
country Wesley, who elsewhere might have become the 
founder of a new cosmopolitan order, was driven to leave his 
name to a sect. And in Christianity we have the greatest ot 
all examples (though as to its actual scale and extent not 
greater than Buddhism) of a religious movement not origin 
ally aggressive assuming an entirely new character under the 
stress of opposition, and becoming at last a power of the first 
magnitude. It is curiously parallel with Buddhism in the 
circumstances that it has been reduced to insignificance in 
the scenes of its early conquests, and has found its strength 
in distant lands and among men of alien races and traditions. 
What has Spinoza to say of the power of Christianity and 
the person of its founder ? His own words shall presently be 
given. But we must attempt to find an equivalent for them 
in the language of our own time : and, leaving aside the 
question of revelation in the abstract, I think we may say 
that Spinoza looked on Jesus as a man of transcendent and 


unique moral genius, standing out above Moses and the 
prophets in some such way as Moses was conceived by the 
Jewish doctors to stand above all other prophets. 1 But he 
did not regard him as otherwise of a different mould from 
mortal men. The mysteries propounded by Christian theo 
logians appeared to him scarcely to deserve express contradic 
tion : they were not so much untrue as unintelligible. In 
discussing the nature of prophetic vision (Tract. Theol- 
Polit. c. i, 22-24) Spinoza says : 

* Though we clearly understand that God can communicate 
immediately with men (for he communicates his nature to our mind 2 
without any bodily instrument) ; yet that a man should purely in his 
mind perceive matters which be not contained in the first principles 
of our knowledge, nor can be deduced therefrom, his mind must be 
of surpassing excellence and beyond man s capacity. Wherefore I 
believe not that any man ever came to that singular height of per 
fection but Christ, to whom the ordinances of God that lead men to 
salvation were revealed, not in words or visions, but immediately : so 
that God manifested himself to the apostles by the mind of Christ, as 
formerly to Moses by means of a voice in the air. And therefore 
the voice of Christ may be called, like that which Moses heard, the 
voice of God. In this sense we may likewise say that the wisdom 
of God, that is, a wisdom above man s, took man s nature in Christ, 
and that Christ is the way of salvation. But here it is needful to ex 
plain that of those things which sundry churches determine concerning 
Christ I have naught to say, neither do I deny them ; for I am free 
to confess I comprehend them not. What I have now said I 
collect from Scripture alone. 

And again in the chapter on God s laws (c. 4) it is said 
that even Moses received and understood his revelations not 
as declarations of eternal truth but as positive laws or pre 
cepts, and regarded God under the human attributes of a 
prince and lawgiver. 

1 This, I say/ adds Spinoza, ( is to be affirmed only of the prophets 
who deliver laws in the name of God ; but not of Christ. Of Christ, 
though he too appears to have delivered laws in the name of God, 

1 Cp Tract TheoL-Pol. c. l, 21. 2 That is, in our ordinary knowledge. 


we are yet to think that he perceived things truly and adequately. 
For Christ was rather the very mouth of God than a prophet ; since 
(as we showed in the first chapter) God gave revelations to mankind by 
the mind of Christ, as aforetime by angels, that is, by particular 
voices and visions. 

And if Christ ever declared after the fashion of a lawgiver 
the truths which he perceived in their eternal necessity, it 
must have been from regard to the ignorance of his hearers. 
Spinoza thus appears to ascribe to Christ not only a sur 
passing power of moral intuition, but a corresponding strength 
and clearness of understanding in relation to the truths thus 
perceived. The reader may already have observed, what is still 
more plain in reading the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus at 
large, that Spinoza takes no account of the historical develop 
ment either of morality or of religion. It was hardly possible 
that he should ; the omission is simply to be noted and borne 
in mind. 

These opinions of Christ s office and character were natur 
ally unacceptable even to moderately orthodox readers. In 
1675 Oldenburg asked Spinoza (Ep. 20) to explain himself 
farther on this and other points. The answer on this head is 
as follows (Ep. 21) : 

I say that it is by no means necessary to salvation to know 
Christ after the flesh ; but of the eternal Son of God, that is, the 
eternal wisdom of God, which has shown itself forth in all things, and 
chiefly in the mind of man, and most chiefly of all in Jesus Christ, 
we are to think far otherwise. For without this no one can attain 
the state of blessedness ; since this alone teaches what is true and 
false, good and evil. And because, as I have said, this wisdom was 
chiefly shown forth through Jesus Christ, his disciples preached the 
same as by him it was revealed to them, and showed that in that 
spirit of Christ they could exalt themselves above others. As for 
the proposition added by sundry churches, that God took on himself 
the nature of man, I have distinctly stated that I know not what the 
mean. To speak plainly, they seem to me to speak as improperly 
as if one should tell me that a circle had assumed the nature of a 


Oldenburg is unsatisfied, and insists on the necessity of 
keeping a certain amount of miracle and mystery as the 
foundation of Christianity (Ep. 22). This leads to an answer 
where Spinoza comes very near to the specific conclusions of 
modern theological criticism, and (what is more remarkable) 
by much the same road (Ep. 23). 

As to my opinion of miracles, I have sufficiently expounded it, 
if I mistake not, in the theologico-political treatise. I now add but 
this much : if you consider these matters, to wit that Christ appeared 
not to the Sanhedrin, not to Pilate, nor to any of the unbelieving, 
but only to the saints j that God hath no right or left hand, nor is 
naturally in any one place, but everywhere j that matter is everywhere 
the same, and that God cannot display himself outside the world in 
the imaginary space men feign ; lastly, that the fabric of the human 
body is restrained by the mere weight of the air within certain 
bounds : you will then easily perceive that the appearance of Christ 
after his death was not unlike that in which God appeared to 
Abraham, when Abraham saw men and asked them to dine with 
him. You will say, surely all the Apostles believed that Christ had 
risen from the dead and in truth ascended into heaven ; which I deny 
not. For Abraham likewise believed that God had dined with him, 
and all Israel believed that God had come down from heaven in fire 
to Mount Sinai and spoken to them in his proper person ; whereas 
these and sundry other matters of the like sort were appearances or 
revelations adapted to the capacity and conceit of the men to whom 
God was minded thereby to reveal his counsel. I conclude there 
fore that the resurrection of Christ from the dead was in truth spiritual, 
revealed only to the faithful, and to them after their capacity ; con 
sisting in this, that Christ was gifted with eternity and rose from the 
dead (the dead, I mean, in that sense in which Christ said : let the 
dead bury their dead), in that by his life and death he gave a singular 
example of holiness j and he raises his disciples from the dead in so 
much as they follow this example of his life and death. And it were 
no hard matter to explain the whole doctrine of the Gospel accord 
ing to this hypothesis. Nay, the fifteenth chapter of the first Epistle 
to the Corinthians can be explained by no other, or Paul s arguments 
understood, for on the common hypothesis they are evidently weak 
and may be confuted with little pains ; not to mention that in 
general the Christians have interpreted spiritually what the Jews have 
interpreted materially/ 


Oldenburg again rejoins that the narrative of the passion 
and resurrection is continuous, lively, and circumstantial, and 
cannot be taken otherwise than literally throughout. Spinoza 
replies (Ep. 25) by repeating his opinion yet more explicitly. 

With you I take the passion, death and burial of Christ 
literally, but his resurrection I take allegorically. I admit that this 
also is told by the Evangelists with such circumstances as that we 
cannot deny that the Evangelists themselves believed Christ s body to 
have risen and ascended into heaven, there to sit on the right hand 
of God ; and that he might have been seen by unbelievers, had any 
such been in the places where Christ appeared to his disciples : but 
in this they might well be mistaken without prejudice to the Gospel 
doctrine, as happened to other prophets also, whereof I have given 
instances in my former letters. But Paul, to whom also Christ 
appeared afterwards, boasts that he knows Christ not according to 
the flesh but according to the spirit. 

Oldenburg was not content with this, but once more pro 
tested (exactly as an English Broad Churchman might now 
protest if he fell into a similar correspondence with a Dutch 
theologian of the liberal school) that the literal historical fact 
of the Resurrection is the indispensable foundation of Chris 
tianity. So far as we know, he had the last word. It is need 
less to dilate on the wonderfully modern character of Spinoza s 
criticism ; it speaks for itself. 

As regards the practical problem of religion considered as 
a guide of life, Spinoza seems to make a distinction between 
philosophers and the majority. For the philosopher religion 
is acquiescence in the order of nature, with the delight in 
knowledge thereby engendered, and living a righteous life at 
,the bidding of reason, Questions about particular revelations 
and supernatural narratives are for him nothing else than his 
torical and critical questions of more or less interest in them 
selves, but not affecting the conduct of life. God and the 
world stand sure for him without miracles or prophecies. But 
for the majority religion is obedience to a revealed rule ; a 
rule which can and ought to be reduced to the simplest terms, 


and almost or entirely freed from requirements of belief in 
specific supernatural events. And it is pretty clear that 
Spinoza is not only describing what he deems practicable for 
his own time, but deems that it must be so for all time. Now 
that we have come to regard human thought as the result of 
a continuous process of growth, we cannot think distinctions 
of this kind maintainable. We cannot hold it a permanent 
necessity of human nature, however inevitable it may seem for 
a long time to come, that there should be one creed for the 
few and another or others for the many. The state of things 
contemplated by Spinoza is an artificial compromise which 
could not last even in the most favourable conditions. In what 
manner religion will be transformed in the future we cannot 
tell : whether by the gradual widening and purifying of exist 
ing forms, or by some new manifestation of individual genius, 
or by the diffused working of strong and subtle thought, dis 
solving forms and leaving no vocation for prophets. It has 
hitherto been the aim of religions to fix man s ideal in life once 
for all. We now find that man s life and thought will not 
be fixed, that our ideals themselves are shifting and changing 
shapes, figures of the shade cast by the soul of man. One 
after another the advancing tide reaches them, rises above 
them, and they disappear. Must we simply acquiesce in this 
perpetual flux of our aspirations ? or may we suppose that 
some new form will emerge which, if not absolutely permanent, 
may be as constant for us and our children as the ideals of 
bygone generations were for them ? It is conceivable, as it 
once seemed in a kind of vision to the clear-headed and truth- 
loving friend to whose memory I have dedicated this book, 
that the sense of natural law might become an organic intui 
tion and fill the world with a new beauty that would leave no 
room for questioning ; or, to express it in Spinoza s language, 
that the intellectual love of God should become a constant 
power and delight in the daily life of our successors. It is 
not long since a leader in science uttered in a scientific meet- 

B B 


ing the hope that one day, through the continued evolution 
of human powers, light may stream in upon the darkness, 
and reveal to man the great mystery of thought. Of this also, 
if we may not now say that it will be, we must not say that it 
will not be. Difficulties one can see with ease ; and it is al- 
vvays unlikely that the first expression of a great hope should 
closely correspond to the fulfilment. But difficulties are made 
to beget daring, not to nourish despair. Such visions and 
hopes as these are not to be lightly deemed of, shadowy 
though they may appear. For men will not seek without high 
longings ; and if seeking they find not what their imagination 
longed for, still they find, and the search itself is worthy. 

But howsoever light is to come, or we are to be enlightened 
to see it, no cry or complaint will hasten it : we must work 
and wait, but above all work. Least of all must we listen to 
those who would entreat or command us to go backward in 
stead of forward. Neither the stars in their courses nor the 
working of man s thought will go back for any man s word, 
or for prayers, or for threatenings. To those who have not 
the temper of intellectual enterprise, whose feelings are indis- 
solubly entwined with the traditions of the past, and who 
would fain recall for the world the days of peaceful belief, we 
can only say, sorrowing for them but steadfast and hopeful for 
ourselves, that so it must be. But to those who chide and re 
proach we shall show, if need be, a bold and even a warlike 
front, answering to their denunciations with Haeckel : Impavidi 
progrediamur. Science, they cry, is irreverent ; she has laid 
hands on mysteries and made the world profane and common. 
In the face of such language it is not for those who bear the 
lamp of knowledge to apologize and speak humbly. They 
need no excuse and have no occasion to do their work by the 
good leave of the letter-worshippers and article-makers. Nay, 
but it is the makers of articles and dogmas who are irreverent. 
They have desecrated the glory of the world with dark habi- 


tations and dwellings of idols, not enduring to live in the open 
light ; and when their tabernacles are broken down, and the 
sun in his strength quells at last the unclean fumes of their 
censers and their sacrifices, their eyes are blinded with that 
splendour, and they cry out that the world is darkened. 
Contaminate est in operibus eorum, et fornicati sunt in adinven- 
tionibus suis. Reverence will never be wanting from those 
who study nature with a whole heart ; reverence for the truth 
of things, and for all good work and love of the truth in man. 
And for the great leaders of men who have conquered them 
not with the sword but with the spirit, who, seeing above their 
fellows what man s life is and might be, have given their own 
lives to make it worthier, for these chiefly shall our reverence 
be unfailing. Whether such an one was named among his 
people Socrates the son of Sophroniscus, or GauLama who is 
called the Buddha, or Jesus who is called the Christ, he shall 
have endless honour and worship of free men, and not least of 
those who have learnt most from Spinoza for their thoughts 
of man and the world. 

Forward, then, we must ever go, finding what light we 
may ; and he that most surely finds will be he that least fears 
danger and loss. The old Northern tale tells how Brynhild 
lay on the enchanted mountain, cast in a deep sleep and clad 
in mail of proof, with a wall of fire round about her. But 
Sigurd came and rode through the fire, and cut through the 
armour, and delivered her ; for he was fearless of heart, and 
rode Odin s horse, and bare Odin s sword, wherewith he had 
slain the worm that guarded the great treasure. And now 
men, being afraid to look on the living face of truth, have 
charmed her asleep and, for that she was not strong enough 
by herself, have imprisoned her in a grievous weight of armour, 
clothing her with creeds, and confessions, and articles. And 
the great and deadly serpent Superstition, bred of fear and 
ignorance, keeps watch on the treasure of knowledge. Only 

B B 2 


he who has slain the serpent and knows not fear can bestride 
Odin s horse and ride through the wall of fire ; only he who 
wields Odin s sword can draw near to that sleeping might and 
beauty, and sunder the stifling links of mail, and show the 
divine face to men. 




For such men as these death is not the end of life. They live on in our remem 
brance of them and in their works. Their thought animates others who come after 
them, and again others who come after these. Were not that the true immortality ? 


I saw the body of Wisdom, and of shifting guise was she wrought, 

And I stretched out my hands to hold her, and a mote of the dust they caught ; 

And I prayed her to come for my teaching, and she came in the rridnight dream 

And I woke and might not remember, nor betwixt her tangle deem : 

She spake, and how might I hearken? I heard, and how might I know ? 

I knew, and how might I fashion, or her hidden glory show ? 

WILLIAM MORRIS : Sigurd the Volsung. 

To give an account of the reception and fortunes of Spinoza s 
thought ; to trace the signs of its acceptance by a few in the 
time when it was for the most part rejected with indignation 
or contempt ; to follow its working in the various fields of 
literature and speculation where, having at last risen to the 
due height of its worth, it has more lately made itself felt : 
this would be an undertaking equivalent, if fully performed, 
to writing the history of modern philosophy. We should not 
go beyond the truth in saying with Auerbach, one of those 
who have in our own time done most to make Spinoza s work 
better known and understood, that Spinoza s mind has fed 
the thoughts of two centuries. And we should much err if in 
considering Spinoza s influence in Europe we confined our 
view to the marks which his system has left in the formal 
theories or discussions of later philosophers. It has more 
than once been remarked that, while much recent philosophy 
is in divers manners and degrees pervaded by Spinozism, 


there has never been a Spinozist school as there has been a 
Cartesian and a Kantian school. The truth is that the 
strength of Spinozism is not in the system as such, but in its 
method and habit of mind. Hostile critics have attacked the 
system ever since it was made known, some with real power, 
some with desperate captiousness ; but even when they are 
successful the spirit eludes them. Not only will it not be 
driven from philosophy, but in like manner it works its way 
into regions where formal philosophy is unwelcome or un 
known. Religion and poetry become its carriers unawares, 
and it might not be too fanciful to trace its presence even in 
the fine arts. It is more or less true of every great philo 
sopher, but it is eminently true of Spinoza, that the history 
of his philosophy is interwoven with the general history of 
culture. What has been written about Spinoza or directly 
adopted from him represents but a part of his power in the 
world, and a still less part of the activity and power of the 
ideas which Spinoza clearly discerned and firmly grasped 
when they were as yet too hard even for strong men. 

All that I can attempt here is to show in outline how it 
has fared with Spinoza s philosophy in the world of science 
and letters down to our own time. The reader who is curious 
enough in the matter to wish for critical and bibliographical 
information will find references in the introductory chapter 
which may help him to seek further for himself. We may 
conveniently begin, as we shall have to end, with Spinoza s 
own country. The first effect of his writings in Holland was 
to raise a storm of controversial indignation, chiefly against 
the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus ; not that it was more 
obnoxious to orthodox criticism than the * Ethics, but it had 
more general and practical interest. Books and pamphlets 
were poured forth in abundance by writers of various degrees 
of notoriety and ability, and were esteemed at the time so 
at least we are told by Colerus, who gives the titles of several 
of them to have accomplished the refutation of Spinoza with 


all the success that could be desired. I suppose there is no 
body now living who has read them ; and perhaps there is no 
enormous presumption in suspecting that the reading of them 
would not now be found profitable, though it might possibly 
be amusing now and then. This zeal for refuting the blasphe 
mous, atheistic, deceitful, soul-destroying works of Spinoza 
such were the epithets with which the authors garnished their 
arguments, in the usual taste of the time was by no means 
confined to the theological faculty. Several of these writers 
were laymen ; at least one, Spinoza s correspondent Blyen- 
bergh, had no pretension to be a scholar. Medicine produced 
its champions too. The Jewish physician Isaac Orobio was 
in the field in good time with a tract against Spinoza and his 
apologists ; and Dr. Bontekoe, in the course of an extremely 
quaint work on the numberless virtues of tea, published only 
two years after Spinoza s death, took occasion emphatically 
to renounce Spinozism. Some one had accused him, it 
appears, of atheism. I will one day show the world, he 
exclaims, what sort of an atheist I am, when I refute the 
godless works of Spinoza, and likewise those of Hobbes and 
Machiavelli, three of the most cursed villains that ever walked 
this earth. l The variety of Dr. Bontekoe s other pursuits 
and quarrels (which were many) appears to have prevented 
him from fulfilling this rather comprehensive promise. It 
happened afterwards, curiously enough, that the career of the 
greatest of Dutch physicians, and the leader of European 
medicine in his time, was in a manner determined by the 
blind fury of orthodox company against Spinoza. Blind it 
was in the particular case at least, as the story will show. 
Boerhaave was in his youth intended for the ministry. While 
he was a theological student, he was travelling one day with 
a person who abused Spinoza in violent language, something 
like Dr. Bontekoe s, we may suppose. Boerhaave, though 

Tractaat van httexcelknsteKruvd Thee &t. In s Gravenhage, MDCLXXIX. 
P- 349, cp. p. 199- 


himself no follower of Spinoza, could not refrain from asking 
the speaker if he had read any of Spinoza s writings. This 
was enough to fasten on Boerhaave the name of Spinozist : 
and accordingly he betook himself to medicine, seeing him 
self cut off from all prospect of advancement in the Church. 1 
Only one writer, so far as we know, Abraham Cuffeler, had 
the courage to stand forth in open defence of the Ethics. 2 

So many were the refuters of Spinoza that before long 
they fell out among themselves, and two or three of them 
incurred the suspicion of being no better than Spinozists in 
disguise. Such accusations are familiar in theological con 
troversy, the more zealous champions seeing an enemy in 
every one who fails to go all lengths with them ; and the 
grounds were probably as slight in this case as they generally 
are. At the same time undoubted manifestations of Spino- 
zism arose within a generation after Spinoza s death in the 
most unexpected quarter, the Reformed Church of the Nether 
lands itself. The local disturbance produced by the move 
ment was considerable ; and it is said that traces of it remain 
even now in small isolated societies who find their spiritual 
comfort in mystical doctrines once formally condemned by 
the church as Spinozistic heresies. One of the first leaders 
was Pontiaan van Hattem of Bergen-op-Zoom, whose works 
soon acquired fame enough for Hattemist and Hattemism 
to become current terms of vituperation. Van Hattem had 
several disciples of more or less note, among whom we may 
here mention the female enthusiast Dinah Jans, and Jacob 
Bril, who pushed his master s mysticism to extremes. Pro 
bably the movement came at this stage under the influence 
of Bohme and the earlier German mystics ; and we must 
remember, as M. Janet has pointed out, that apart from 

1 H. J. Betz, Levensschets van Baruch de Spinoza, (The Hague, 1876), p. 25; 
Van der Aa, Biographisch Woordenboek der Nederlanden, s.v. Boerhaave. It 
appears that he had actually disputed against Spinoza in an academical thesis. 

2 Specimen artis ratiodnandi, &c., 1684, Van der Linde, Bibliograjie^ 
nos. 1 5 la, 1 51^, i$ic. 


Spinoza s writing a certain mystical and pantheistic tendency 
already existed in the theology of the Low Countries. Car- 
tesianism, too, had its mystical developments. But the 
original connexion of Hattemism with Spinoza seems to be 
free from doubt. Hattemism, in fact, was an exaggeration of 
Spinozism on its apparently mystical side. Faith was defined 
as the knowledge of man s absolute union with Christ, who is 
God conceived in his full perfection, to which this union be 
longs ; while the foundation of sin is the error of regarding 
God s being as separate from or opposed to that of man. 
The true Christian is the man who has attained beatitude 
by the consciousness of this identity. Evil is regarded, with 
Spinoza, as a negative and relative conception ; nay, the sin 
against the Holy Ghost is explained to consist in attributing 
any positive existence to evil and sin. Van Hattem s only 
criticism on Spinoza was that he arrived at his results by 
speculation instead of finding them in Scripture. His doc 
trines were elaborately condemned in a kind of official 
syllabus by the ecclesiastical authorities of Middelburg. 
Part of the declaration required of suspected persons ran as 
follows : Especially I renounce the doctrine taught by P. 
van Hattem in his writings, and account the same blasphe 
mous and soul-destroying. I testify that I hold in abomina 
tion these Spinozistic opinions, in what words or language 
soever they may be expressed. At the same place, and I 
presume at or about the same time, a number of anonymous 
works were burnt by order of the authorities of Middelburg as 
being full of the abominable and blasphemous sentiments 
of the Libertines, modern Spinozists, Hattemists, and Free 
thinkers. l Another conspicuous figure in this episode ap 
pearing somewhat later than Van Hattem is Frederick van 
Leenhof, a minister of Zwolle. His offence consisted in the 
publication of a book entitled Heaven on Earth ; or a short 
and clear account of true and constant blessedness (1703) ; 

1 Van der Linde, no. 169, note. This was in 1714. 


which was in fact an attempt to construct a rationalized system 
of Christian ethics embodying most of Spinoza s doctrines. 
Leenhof accepts from Spinoza not only determinism (in itself 
an orthodox doctrine enough) but the ethical condemnation of 
sorrow and all passions involving it. He expressly adopted 
Spinoza s definition of pleasure, and justified this in an apolo 
getic work on the ground that Spinoza s ethical definitions were 
an improvement on those of Descartes. He also set forth 
in language closely copied from Spinoza s the doctrine that 
painful feelings cease to be painful in so far as we form 
adequate ideas of them and contemplate them as part of the 
eternal order of the world. Withal he steadily protested that 
his opinions were not amenable to the charge of heterodoxy ; 
but the authorities of the Reformed Church thought other 
wise, and continued to denounce the Leenhoffian heresy all 
through the eighteenth century. 

For the rest, this theological strife in the Netherlands had 
no effect, so far as appears, on the knowledge or criticism of 
Spinoza s doctrine elsewhere : and it was soon so much for 
gotten that it escaped the notice even of historians of philo 
sophy till, towards the beginning of the most recent period of 
Spinozistic criticism, it was opportunely brought to light by Dr. 
van der Linde in a monograph which he has since corrected and 
completed in certain particulars in his Bibliography of Spinoza. 
The light he now throws upon this episode makes no direct 
addition to our understanding of Spinoza s philosophy ; but 
it is interesting to know that the immediate effect of his work 
was so much greater than had been supposed. I do not know 
how far Spinoza may have been similarly taken up by readers 
of a mystic turn at other times and places. An attempt has 
been made to show that Swedenborg, the most illustrious of 
modern mystics, borrowed considerably from him. On this 
ground, however, nothing is more deceptive than general re 
semblances. 1 

1 See Van der Linde, no. 331 ; R, Willis, Benedict de Spinoza, p. 187. 


Let us turn to the reception of Spinoza s work by the 
larger world of European thought It is quite possible to ex 
aggerate the neglect of it which prevailed for about a century 
after his death ; it is quite possible also to exaggerate the 
misunderstanding which accompanied and partly caused this 
neglect. Spinoza was rejected, but never forgotten ; and re 
jected not so much because his ideas were wrongly appre 
hended as because few of his readers were educated up to 
the point of tolerating them. The rejection, however, was 
complete. Spinoza was for the time thrown clean out of 
the stream of European speculation, and philosophers in all 
countries went their way without taking any serious account 
of him. A variety of circumstances combined to produce this 
result. First and most obvious is the enmity of orthodox theo 
logians of all denominations. But Spinoza had also incurred 
the hatred of the philosophical party which, itself recently 
under the ban of the churches, had now won for itself a re 
spectable position, and in many seats of learning was supreme. 
The Cartesians could never forgive Spinoza for his indepen 
dence. To have improved on Descartes and gone the length 
of openly contradicting him was in their eyes the worst heresy 
of all. On the other hand, the affinities of Spinozism were 
plain enough to give a handle for ugly-sounding accusations 
of Descartes teaching in its tendency if not in its actual con 
tents : and thus it became almost necessary for Cartesians, 
anxious to vindicate their new-fledged orthodoxy, to be zealous 
in denouncing this strange growth which seemed to many to 
be of their own stock. Spinoza s philosophy had to contend 
with the whole weight of the Cartesian school as well as with 
the power of the churches. There was one man who perhaps 
had the power, if the will had been present, of doing justice 
to Spinoza and seeing it done by others. Leibnitz was cer 
tainly capable of understanding Spinoza ; he had held cor 
respondence with him, seen and talked with him. We know 
that he read his writings with some care. His own philoso- 


phical conceptions were probably fixed before they could have 
been much affected by anything in Spinoza s : but a seri 
ous recognition of Spinoza s importance by Leibnitz, however 
much criticism had accompanied it, would have made it im 
possible for Spinoza to be treated with contempt. 

Leibnitz, however, not only failed to do justice to Spinoza, 
but encouraged injustice. It is difficult to believe that his con 
duct in this matter was sincere. The references to Spinoza in 
his published works are in a tone of systematic deprecia 
tion. It was Leibnitz who started the shallow dictum, since 
repeated and expanded by many imitators, that Spinoza did 
nothing but cultivate some of the seed sown by Descartes. 
His personal intercourse with Spinoza, which could not be 
denied, is extenuated as much as possible. But in general 
Spinoza is simply ignored, even where one would most expect 
to find reference to him, as in the theory of pre-established 
harmony. Not that I can regard the pre-established harmony 
of Leibnitz as borrowed from Spinoza. 1 But when Leibnitz 
is professedly reviewing the various attempts already made 
to explain the relation of mind and matter, it is surprising to 
find all mention of Spinoza s theory omitted. There would 
be no great cause for surprise if the theory were mentioned 
without Spinoza s name ; that would be only in the manner 
of the time. But the omission is total, and cannot well be 
an accident. Then Leibnitz s saying already quoted, and still 
more, his other epigrammatic judgment that Spinoza begins 
where Descartes ends, in naturalism/ have very much the air 
of being ingeniously contrived to disparage in one breath 
Spinoza for having only developed the philosophy of Descartes, 
and the philosophy of Descartes for being capable of such a 
development. They point the way to the charitable senti 
ment uttered in perfect good faith by a modern French writer 
after a careful study of both systems : Let us forgive Descartes 
for having raised up Spinoza ! Whether Leibnitz had the 

1 See p. 192 above, 


deliberate intention of exalting his own originality at Spinoza s 
expense, or was misled by an unconscious bias, it is certain 
that his action had a considerable share in keeping Spinoza 
out of his rightful place. So, as we have said, philosophy 
went its way without giving ear to Spinoza, and sunk in the 
hands of Leibnitz s successors into dogmatic formalism. 

Meanwhile a new school was arising in England who 
might possibly have recognized in Spinoza s teaching the 
voice of a friend if not of a master. But it fell out otherwise. 
The English philosophical school grew up in perfect inde 
pendence, and perhaps it was better so. Locke, Berkeley, 
Hume all make some little mention of Spinoza ; but in every 
case it is so slight and desultory as to show plainly that they 
had never thought of Spinoza as a writer deserving to be 
seriously considered. Locke brackets him with Hobbes in 
loose condemnation as those justly decried authors. Berkeley 
speaks of those wild imaginations of Vanini, Hobbes, and 
Spinoza ; and of modern Atheism, be it of Hobbes, Spinoza, 
Collins, or whom you will : and he seems to have accepted 
the popular view of Spinozism as a merely formal system. 
The following passage from Alciphron (Seventh Dialogue, 
29, Works, ii. 334, ed. Eraser) is worth quoting: 

* I have heard, said I, Spinosa represented as a man of close 
argument and demonstration. 

* He did, replied Crito, demonstrate ; but it was after such a 
manner as one may demonstrate anything. Allow a man the 
privilege to make his own definitions of common words, and it will 
be no hard matter for him to infer conclusions which in one sense 
shall be true and in another false, at once seeming paradoxes and 
manifest truisms. For example, let but Spinosa define natural right 
to be natural power, and he will easily demonstrate that whatever a 
man can do he hath a right to do. Nothing can be plainer than the 
folly of this proceeding : but our pretenders to the lumen siccum are 
so passionately prejudiced against religion, as to swallow the grossest 
nonsense and sophistry of weak and wicked writers for demonstra 


It appears, however, that Berkeley had really read Spinoza ; 
which is more than can be said of either Locke or Hume. It 
is possible that Locke, taking the general Continental estimate 
on trust, set down Spinoza as a kind of erratic Cartesian ; 
and we know that from Cartesianism in any form he expected 
no solid profit. As to Hume, Professor Huxley has pointed 
out that he was pretty uniformly indolent in making himself 
acquainted with philosophical literature even on points that 
immediately concerned his work. If he ever did take up 
Spinoza, it is unlikely that he had the patience to pierce 
through the rind of definitions and axioms. Indeed it has 
been the common fate of many readers and critics of Spinoza 
to stick fast in the First Part of the Ethics. But it is also 
possible that if Hume had looked far enough into Spinoza to 
find other things more to his mind, as would have been, for 
example, the appendix on Final Causes, and the pitiless on 
slaughts made in various places of the Ethics on the current 
logical doctrines of universals and the like, he would not have 
cared to leave any evidence of it in his work. The open 
defence of opinions commonly reprobated was not at all con 
sistent with his attitude of pure scepticism. Besides, to profess 
any particular interest in Spinoza was at that time equivalent 
to throw ing oneself into the troubled waters of theological and 
sectarian polemics, which was exactly what Hume wanted to 

For the misapprehension of Spinoza s philosophical im 
portance was not only consistent with his making a great stir 
in the theological department of the world of letters, but was 
to a great extent the natural consequence of the repulsion 
excited by the theological bearings of his doctrine. Divines 
filled with horror at the impious writer who denied an extra- 
mundane Deity, final, causes, and free will, had not the time or 
temper to examine his contributions to the science of human 
nature. Moreover, the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus had 
already made it impossible for the Ethics to be fairly dealt 


with. We have already seen how it was received in the 
Netherlands when it first appeared. In England it does not 
seem to have been much known till some time after Spinoza s 
death; though as early as 1678 Cudworth gave a contemp 
tuous paragraph to it in his True Intellectual System of the 
Universe (p. 707). Cudworth declares that as for that late 
theological politician who contended that a miracle is no 
thing but a name which the ignorant vulgar gives to opus 
naturcz insolitum, any unwonted work of nature, or to what 
themselves can assign no cause of, he finds his discourse 
every way so weak, groundless, and inconsiderable, as not 
to deserve a confutation. 1 A translation was published in 
1689, not very elegantly written, and not disclosing either 
the translator s or the author s name. Either in this form 
or in the original Latin the treatise must have obtained a 
good deal of currency, as in 1697 we find one Matthias 
Earbery coming forward to demolish it with more valour 
than wisdom ( Deism examin d and confuted in an answer 
to a book intitled, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus ). Earbery 
admits with a sort of apology that Spinoza had some scholar 
ship. Nor am I ignorant, he says in his Preface, that the 
author of this book was very well versed (pardon the expres 
sion) in the writings of Moses and the Prophets. But he 
soon makes up for any excess of civility he may have been 
guilty of : I thought it would be at least some punishment, 
as it were, to the very shades and Manes of this author to 
show the world that he, who so long has found a place in 
the libraries and hands of very learned men, has scarce for 
his stupidity, and trifling way of arguing, merit to obtain a 
place amongst the lowest forms of inferior animals. In 
course of time other champions of weightier metal attacked 
the Ethics also, but still in distinctly theological interests. 
John Howe, a great light of English nonconformity, devoted 
a chapter of his book, The Living Temple, to animadver 
sions on Spinoza. His refutation of Spinoza s metaphysical 


principles is a fair specimen of the dry and windy jangling 
over verbal definitions which then passed muster for philoso 
phical discussion with the help of the reader s foregone con 
clusion. No doubt it was much esteemed at the time, and 
may be so still by readers who are able to reproduce in them 
selves the mental condition of Howe s original audience, He 
never gets beyond the definitions of Substance and Attribute, 
and shows no sign of really understanding Spinoza. My 
own impression is that he had not so much as read beyond 
the First Part. But the most serious and capable polemic 
against Spinoza was that of Clarke in his Boyle Lectures, 
otherwise known as the Discourse concerning the Being and 
Attributes of God. He is little more courteous, if at all, 
than Earbery and Howe. Spinoza is described as the 
most celebrated patron of atheism in our time ; his vanity, 
folly, and weakness are exposed ; and his argument against 
final causes is dismissed as hardly fit to be gravely refuted : 
I suppose it will not be thought that when once a man 
comes to this he is to be disputed with any longer. It is 
nevertheless clear from the prominence given to Spinoza, as 
to Hobbes, that Clarke practically thought both of them more 
formidable than he was willing to admit. Clarke s criticism 
turns on the conception of Substance, the doctrine of final 
causes (on which, as just mentioned, he is curt and super 
cilious), and free will. 1 The Discourse was translated into 
French in 1/17, and into Dutch as late as 1793, I presume 
as a counterblast to the German revival of Spinozism. 2 A 
less famous divine, by name Brampton Gurdon, likewise 
formally attacked Spinoza in a later series of Boyle Lectures, 
in 1721 and 1722. Spinoza, says Mr. Gurdon, is the only 
person among the modern Atheists, that has pretended to give 
us a regular scheme of Atheism ; and therefore I cannot act 

1 Cp. L. Stephen, English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, 120 ; and as 
to Tolancl, ib. 104. 

8 Van der Linde, Bibliogr. nos. 292, 293. 


unfairly in making him the representative of their party. Two 
whole sermons and several passages in others are given to 
demolishing so much of Spinoza s philosophy as is supposed 
by the preacher to be still in need of demolition. 

Unorthodox writers, as a rule, either neglected or affected 
to neglect Spinoza for reasons which may easily be di 
vined. Toland, however, speaks of him with considerable 
respect, and justifies himself for so doing. Criticizing 
Spinoza s physics, which he seems to have understood 
very superficially, as undigested and unphilosophical, Toland 
maintains his right to say that yet Spinoza was for all that 
a great and good man in many respects, as may not only be 
seen by his works, but also by the account of his life since 
that time publish d by Colerus, a Lutheran minister, though as 
contrary to some of his sentiments as any man breathing. 
Such language from Toland would only confirm Spinoza s 
general reputation as an atheist of the worst kind, or perhaps 
a deist (it mattered little which), among orthodox readers. 
The popular judgment of the religious world on him is given 
with amusing crudeness in a little dictionary of religions and 
sects, for the most part written with fairness and moderation, 
which was published about the beginning of this century and 
went through many editions. In this book we read under 
the head of Atheism, that Spinoza, a foreigner, was its noted 
defender. So far as I know, there was no serious philoso 
phical consideration of Spinoza in England until it was 
brought in by Coleridge along with his general stock of 
German literature and philosophy. Thus the modern study 
of Spinoza in England depends ultimately on the restoration 
of his fame by Lessing in Germany, of which we have 
presently to speak. 

Meanwhile we must turn to the fortunes of Spinoza in 
France ; on which ground the reader who wishes for more 
detail than we can here give will find an excellent guide in 
M. Paul Janet. Refutations of Spinoza were prepared by 

C C 


theologians in France even before the appearance of the 
1 Opera Posthuma. Afterwards Massillon declaimed against 
him as a monster of impiety, and two Cardinals, De Polignac 
and De Bernis, published versified refutations of him, the one 
in Latin, the other in French : * De Bernis s performance is 
commended by Ste.-Beuve as combining vigour with discre 
tion. But perhaps the two cardinals should rather count as 
showing that the name of Spinoza was the centre of a certain 
excitement in the general world of letters. It appears on 
the whole that Spinoza was more written and talked about in 
France than in England during the eighteenth century ; but 
he was no less completely excluded from the order of seriously 
recognized philosophers. As in this country, he was rejected 
with abhorrence by the orthodox, and, with few exceptions, 
slighted by freethinking writers. Bayle gave a long article to 
Spinoza in his Dictionary, which is a curious and unequal 
mixture of anecdote, gossip, and criticism. Little of it is now 
of any value ; but it was for a long time the only accessible 
and comparatively readable account of Spinoza s system. The 
alleged affinities of Spinozism with other ancient and modern 
systems, including Sufism and Chinese Buddhism (known to 
Bayle and his authorities as Foe Kiad) are traced with an 
enormous display of learning. Spinoza is called an atheist 
all through, and the philosophy of the Opera Posthuma 
described as a most absurd and monstrous theory, contra 
dicting self-evident truths. It is surmised that most French 
philosophers of the eighteenth century had no other know 
ledge of Spinoza than they could derive from this article, 
which was closely copied by Diderot in the Encyclopaedia. 
Condillac, in his Traite de Systemes, first published in 1749, 
criticizes in some detail the First Part of the Ethics. He 
thinks Bayle s criticism superficial, but arrives at a result 
quite as unfavourable to Spinoza. He writes from an anti- 
metaphysical-point of view and under the geometrical fallacy, 
1 Specimens of both are quoted in Voltaire s notes to his poem, Lcs Syst ernes* 


if I may so call it, which has misled so many of Spinoza s critics, 
Spinoza is treated as a dogmatic trifler who deceives himself 
with an unintelligible scholastic jargon. What Condillac 
undertook to do and thought he had done was (nearly in his 
own words) to show that Spinoza talked about things of which 
he had no clear conception, that his definitions are loose, his 
axioms far from being true, his propositions fantastic and 
barren. He challenges the followers of Spinoza as if there 
was at that time supposed to be some considerable number of 
them to choose between abandoning the system as having 
no real meaning, and providing a distinct explanation of the 
meaning they profess to find in it. 

Voltaire discusses Spinoza more or less deliberately in 
various places. Of his person he speaks with high respect ; 
in the criticism of his philosophy he goes in the main with 
Bayle, though his language is not wholly consistent. Like 
Bayle, he seems to find a certain pleasure in the paradoxical 
contrast between Spinoza s supposed impious doctrines and 
his moral life. II renversait tous les principes de la morale, 
en etant lui-meme d une vertu rigide. Again, he speaks of 
Me sophiste geometrique Spinosa, dont la moderation, le 
desinteressement, et la generosite ont ete dignes d Epictete. 
Elsewhere Spinoza is used by Voltaire as an example of 
virtue apart from belief in supernatural dogmas. The 
mixture of personal generosity with philosophical narrowness 
in Voltaire s estimate is at first sight strange, but ceases to 
be so when we bear in mind that the form of pure theism 
strongly and even vehemently maintained by Voltaire made 
him a champion of natural theology and final causes. The 
* Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, where Spinoza s opinions on 
these points are not developed, seems to have been read by 
Voltaire with attention and something like approval ; at least 
; his expressions of dissent are of the most faint and formal 
I kind, and coupled with marked and specific praise. 1 As to 

1 Ldtre sitr Spinosa, in Melanges Ltittraires : Get ouvrage est tres-profond 

c c 2 


the Opera Posthuma, Voltaire had probably not read them ; 
he calls Spinoza s Latin dry, obscure, even bad ; and when 
he wants to discuss Spinoza s metaphysics he quotes from 
the so-called refutation by the Count de Boulainvilliers. 

This work is curious enough to deserve special mention, 
and may be introduced by Voltaire s significant remark that 
under the title of Refutation of Spinoza Boulainvilliers 
gave the poison and forgot to give the antidote. The book 
is a popular exposition of the f Ethics, in which little is pre 
served of the arrangement or the language of the original. 
Some passages appear to be inserted from the De Intellectus 
Emendatione, and occasionally we meet with terms and lines, 
of argument which are not in Spinoza at all. It was not 
published till after Boulainvilliers death ; but he left with 
it an apologetic preface which thinly disguises the real pur 
pose. He professes to have met with the ( Opera Posthuma 
quite by accident, and bought the book for the sake of the 
Hebrew grammar : then, he says, having nothing else to do 
in the country, he made acquaintance with the philosophical 
writings, and, thinking it of high importance that, they should 
be properly refuted, conceived the plan of expounding their 
contents in a more generally intelligible form : afin que le 
systeme rendu dans une langue commune, et reduit a des 
expressions ordinaires, put etre en etat d exciter une indig 
nation pareille a la mienne, et procurer, par ce moyen, de 
veritables ennemis a de si pernicieux principes. The volume 
also contains, I presume to save appearances, reprints and 
extracts of sundry controversial publications relating to Spi 
noza and Spinozism. It further includes the life of Spinoza 
by Colerus, with large interpolations from the untrustworthy 
work of Lucas, which Boulainvilliers knew only in manu 
script. In that form Lucas s biography appears to have had 
some .currency in freethinking society on the Continent, 

et le meilleur qu il ait fait ; j en conclamne sans doute les sentimens, maisjene 
puis m empecher d en estimer 1 erudition, &c. 


and it oddly enough became associated with a certain 
Traite des trois imposteurs, which occurs together with 
Lucas, and also alone, under the title L Esprit de Monsieur 
Benoit de Spinoza, or L Esprit de Spinoza. l As for this 
last-mentioned production, it has nothing whatever to do with 
Spinoza, nor yet is it a translation of the Latin book De 
tribus impostoribus, of which the true date and origin have 
long been a standing puzzle of bibliographers. For us the only 
interest of it is that the circumstances show Spinoza s name 
to have become a sort of catch-word for anti-theological as 
well as theological polemics, and with about equal ignorance 
on both sides of what his philosophy really was. 

It would be difficult to say to what extent Spinoza may 
have been read in a more judicial spirit by people who 
kept themselves clear of polemics altogether. Montesquieu, 
having ventured to treat historical and political problems in 
a scientific manner, was accused as a matter of course of Spi- 
nozism. He had no difficulty in showing that the charge 
was absurd. 2 There is pretty strong internal evidence, how 
ever, that Montesquieu had read the * Opera Posthuma ; not 
in his great work indeed, but in the Lettres Persanes, a place 
at first sight less likely. In the fifty-ninth Letter the follow 
ing sentence occurs : On a dit fort bien que, si les triangles 
faisoient un dieu, ils lui donneroient trois cotes. This ap 
pears to be an unmistakable allusion to a passage we have 
already quoted in a former chapter from Spinoza s letters. 3 
For the rest, the Lettres Persanes are much less guarded 
in other respects than the Esprit des Lois. To discuss 
what they entitle us to conclude as to Montesquieu s real 
opinions would take us too far. 

1 MSS. in the Royal Library at the Hague. The combination had been 
printed in 1719, but was shortly afterwards called in. See Van der Lmde, 

Bibliogr. nos. 99-104. The MSS. are in neat French handwriting of the first 
half of the eighteenth century. There is another in the British Museum. See 
Introduction for more detail. 

2 Defense de F Esprit des Lois, ad init. 3 P. 63, above. 


While Voltaire and the Encyclopaedists were still at the 
head of European thought, and happy in the conviction that 
Spinoza might be left alone as an enthusiast who had the 
personal merit of being a virtuous heretic and odious to 
orthodox authorities, but was philosophically quite hopeless, 
the movement had begun in Germany, as yet unobserved, 
which was to restore him to his true place. If a date is to be 
fixed for the birth of modern Spinozism, it must be Lessing s 
conversation with Jacobi in 1780. But many years before that 
time Lessing had been in correspondence with Moses Mendels 
sohn about Spinoza, and, what is of more importance, had 
thoroughly assimilated Spinoza s ideas and used them in his 
own work. Still earlier he had written thus of Mendelssohn, 
then quite a young man, to another friend : His sincerity and 
philosophic turn of mind make me look on him as one that 
will be a second Spinoza. To make him altogether like the first 
nothing but his errors will be wanting. * It is clear that 
Lessing had carefully studied Spinoza, and understood him 
better than many later philosophers and critics ; it is also 
clear that Lessing never fully accepted Spinoza s point of 
view as applicable to the theory of human nature and the 
conduct of life. Not only do the words just quoted show this, 
but it appears from Lessing s statement and indications of 
his own philosophical opinions, unsystematic as they are. 
There were points on which he came nearer to Leibnitz. 
But his intellectual sympathies were all with Spinoza, both as 
against the common orthodox denunciation and as against 
the half-intelligent criticism of the free-thinking French 
school. A man thus disposed, and standing at the head of 
German literature, if indeed he may not be called the founder 
of modern German culture, was eminently fitted to render to 
Spinoza s memory the justice that had been so long delayed. 

1 Letters to J. D. Michaelis, Oct. 16, 1754 ; to Mendelssohn, April 17, 1763. 
Cp. Dr. Karl Rehorn, G. E. Lessing s Stellung znr Philosophic dcs Spinoza, 
Frankfurt-am-Main, 1877; J. Sime, Lessing vol. ii, p. 296, &c. 


It was not done, it is true, by openly preaching Spinoza s 
merits. That was left by Lessing to the coming generation 
who had learnt from him ; and he taught them much better 
than he would have done by direct preaching. It is but one 
example, if I mistake not, of the characteristic method of his 

After Lessing s death a discussion arose between Jacobi 
and Moses Mendelssohn as to what Lessing s opinions had 
been. Mendelssohn was preparing a memoir of Lessing, and 
Jacobi communicated to him, as a matter of interest he might 
perhaps not know, that Lessing had been a Spinozist. Men 
delssohn declined to accept the statement, and there ensued 
a correspondence, long, desultory, and now sufficiently tedious 
to follow, which ended in a personal controversy. The part of 
it which is still interesting is Jacobi s account of his talk with 
Lessing about Spinoza. He wrote it down for Mendelssohn, 
apparently from memory, three years after it took place : but 
the impression it had made was obviously deep, and his 
report may be taken as in substance correct. It was on the 
5th of July, 1780, that Jacobi paid a long desired visit to 
Lessing : they talked much and of many things, and the next 
morning they fell into more talk over Goethe s Prometheus, 
which Jacobi had with him, and Lessing saw for the first 
time. You have shocked so many people, said Jacobi as he 
gave it him to read, * that you may as well be shocked for once 
yourself. Not at all/ replied Lessing after reading the lines : 
I know all that at first hand. Let us interpose a warning 
before we follow up the dialogue as given in dramatic form 
by Jacobi. Judicious readers have before now observed that 
Lessing seems to have had a mind to disport himself with 
Jacobi, to put things paradoxically, to shock him a little, and 
never to let him fully see if he were serious or not. Jacobi, 
however, took it all seriously and solemnly. The conversa 
tion proceeds thus : 

Jacobi. You know the poem? 


Lessing. I never read the poem before, but I like it. 

Jacobi. So do I in its way, or I would not have shown it you. 

Lessing. That is not what I mean. The point of view of that 
poem is my own. The orthodox conceptions of Deity will do no 
longer for me ; I cannot stomach them ; \v KCU TTUV I know no more 
than that. Such is the drift of this poem too ; and I am free to con 
fess it is much to my mind. 

JacoM. Why, that makes you pretty much in accord with Spinoza. 

Lessing. If I am to call myself after any master, I know of no 

Jacobi. Spinoza is good enough for me : but tis a sorry kind of 
salvation one can find in his name. 

Lessing. Well, so be it. But, after all, do you know of any 
better ? 

Before Jacobi had time to recover from his astonishment, 
they were interrupted. Lessing renewed the conversation 
the next morning. Jacobi explained that he had rather 
hoped to get some help against Spinoza from Lessing. 

Lessi?ig. Then it seems you know him. 

Jacobi. I think I know him as very few can have done. 

Lessing. Then there is no help for you : you had better make 
friends with him for good and all. There is no other philosophy than 
the philosophy of Spinoza. 

Jacobi is then drawn into a pretty full exposition, Lessing 
only putting in a stimulating question every now and then. 
At one point Lessing suggests that the eminently respect 
able Leibnitz was in truth a Spinozist. Do you mean 
it seriously ? cries Jacobi. Do you doubt it seriously ? 
answers Lessing. Presently Jacobi comes back to the sug 
gestion and develops it at some length. 

Lessing. I shall leave you no peace till you come out with 
that parallel to think that people go on talking of Spinoza as if he 
were a dead dog ! 

Jacobi. They would do just the same afterwards. To grasp 
Spinoza requires a mental effort too long and too stubborn for them. 
And no one has grasped him to whom a single line in the * Ethics has 
remained obscure, 


Notwithstanding this brave saying, Lessing appears to 
have had his doubts whether Jacobi really understood 
Spinoza, and modern critics have certainly not taken his 
mastery of the Ethics at his own valuation. The general 
purport of Jacobi s rather long-winded observations is that 
Spinoza s philosophy is logically unanswerable but morally 
unacceptable ; Spinozism, he says, is atheism. For practical 
purposes he takes refuge in an act of faith, salto inortale as he 
calls it in the conversation with Lessing, who with a certain 
irony declined at his age to follow in any such adventures ; 
being unable, he said, to trust his old limbs and heavy head 
for such a leap. 

The strife of Jacobi and Mendelssohn over Lessing s body 
could not fail to concentrate attention on Spinoza and his 
doctrines. Some notion of the effect that was produced 
is given by Herder s preface to the second edition of his 
dialogues on Spinoza s system, published in 1800. It is there 
said that the edition might have been ready several years 
earlier, but was delayed for various reasons. In particular, 
Spinoza had become so popular (being taken up by some 
even with extravagance) that an unpretending attempt to 
remove the common misapprehensions about him seemed to 
have lost its point. 

Since 1787, when these dialogues were first printed, much had 
been changed in the philosophical outlook of Germany. The name 
of Spinoza, which used to be mentioned with a shudder of abhorrence, 
had since then risen so high with some persons that they could 
never name it except for the disparagement of Leibnitz and other 
excellent authors. 

We may take it, then, that some ten or twelve years after 
Lessing s death the tone of educated German society with 
regard to Spinoza had undergone a complete change. 
Herder s dialogues themselves give a version of Spinoza s 
doctrine, or rather of what it might have been, which may be 
described as a sort of idealized naturalism, Their general aim 


is curiously like that of some writers of our own day who, 
accepting the theory of evolution as established by science, 
but not content with its purely scientific aspect, have en 
deavoured to make it the vehicle of new and refined forms of 
teleology. Some of Herder s points and phrases might still be 
found suggestive. 1 The general tendency of his reading of 
Spinoza is thus opposed to Jacobi s, and not unlike that which 
has on the whole prevailed among later German critics. An 
undercurrent of anti-Kantian polemic is traceable in many 
parts of the dialogues. 

Kant himself was unaffected by the rising influence of 
Spinoza. Either he never considered Spinoza seriously, or he 
came to the consideration of him too late. What mention 
there is of Spinoza in Kant s philosophical writings is but 
slight and occasional. In one place he is criticized on the 
one point of final causes, but not lucidly or adequately. 2 The 
reader of Kant may indeed find here and there curious ap 
proximations to Spinoza s lines of thought. One such has 
been pointed out in a former chapter. But these are on the 
face of them accidental ; they are such that if Spinoza s corre 
sponding work had been present to Kant s mind the resem 
blance must have been less or more. It is hardly needful to 
add that Kant s way of approaching the problems of philo 
sophy is entirely different from Spinoza s. Only the genera 
tion succeeding Kant felt the full power of the revived 
Spinozism in philosophy ; for the time its work was more in 
the semi-philosophical regions of literature and poetry. Les- 
sing s mantle fell in a great measure upon Goethe ; and for 

1 For example, he meets the objection that Spinoza does not account for the 
individuality of things by saying that when Spinoza is rightly understood this is 
a specially strong point in his system. The principium individuationis is iden 
tified with life, and is capable of degrees which depend on the degree of organiza 
tion attained. <Je mehr Leben und Wirklichkeit, d. i. je eine verstandigere, 
machtigere, vollkommnere Energie ein Wesen zur Erhaltung eines Ganzen hat, 
das es sich angehorig fiihlt, dem es sich innig und ganz mittheilet, desto mehr ist 
es Individuum, Selbst. 

2 Kritik der Urtheilskraft t 73. 


Goethe, as for Lessing, Spinoza was a living and eloquent 
guide. By Goethe even more richly and variously than by 
Lessing the ideas put forth by Spinoza were refashioned in less 
technical forms, endowed with new life, and spread abroad 
among the educated public. Goethe too, like Lessing, was 
not altogether in speculative agreement with Spinoza, but 
nevertheless assimilated and used him. The direct, one may 
indeed say decisive, influence of Spinoza on his mind for 
it is his own word is no matter of conjecture : it is told by 
Goethe himself, He had long sought unsatisfied for guidance 
and sustenance ; at last he came on the Ethics of Spinoza, 
and there found something he could repose in. 

What the book may have given to me, or what I may have 
put into it of my own, it is impossible for me to say : enough that I 
found here that which stilled the emotions : a wide and free prospect 
over the physical and moral world disclosed itself before me. But 
what chiefly drew me to Spinoza was the boundless unselfishness 
that shone forth in every sentence. That marvellous saying : Whoso 
truly loves God must not expect God to love him in return, with all 
the propositions that support it, all the consequences that flow from it, 
was the burden of all my thoughts. To be unselfish in everything, 
most of all in love and friendship, was my highest pleasure, my rule 
of life, my exercise, so that my foolhardy saying of a later time, If I 
love you, what is that to you ? was truly felt by me when I wrote it. 
I must not forget to acknowledge in this case as in others the truth 
that the closest unions are the result of contrast. The serene level 
of Spinoza stood out against my striving endeavour in all directions ; 
his mathematical method was the complement of my poetical way 
of observation and description, and his formal treatment, which some 
could not think appropriate to moral subjects, was just what made 
me learn from him with eagerness and admire him without reserve. 

In another passage, less quoted but not less remarkable, 
Goethe tells how the sight of an old attack on Spinoza (it 
seems to have been Kortholt s De tribus impostoribus 
magnis ) led him to take up the Opera Posthuma again, 
after a long interval. He well remembered the effect of 
the first reading, and this time again he seemed to attain an 


extraordinary clearness of intellectual vision. 1 He goes on to 
say what was the lesson he found in Spinoza. The whole of 
our education and experience bids us to renounce and resign : 
Dass wir entsagen sollen. The problem of man s life is to 
reconcile himself to this. One ready way is the superficial 
way of the many, to proclaim that all things are vanity. But 
the path of wisdom, sought only by a few, is to cut short the 
pains of resignation in detail by a resignation once for all ; to 
rest one s mind on that which is eternal, necessary, and uni 
form, and possess ideas which remain undisturbed by the 
contemplation of a transitory world. This was the secret of 
Spinoza for Goethe. Not that he ever assented in detail to 
the letter of his doctrine. He knew too well how difficult 
it is for one man to enter into another s thoughts, how 
easy misunderstandings are, even to flatter himself that he 
thoroughly understood Spinoza. For some time he meant 
to introduce a visit to Spinoza into his unfinished poem on 
the Wandering Jew. The scene was much thought over, but 
never written. 

Against Jacobi s reading of the Ethics Goethe protested in 
emphatic language. My own way of looking at nature/ he 
wrote, is not Spinoza s ; but if I had to name the book that 
of all I know agrees best with my view, I could only name 
the Ethics. I hold more and more firmly to worshipping 
God with this so-called atheist, and gladly leave to you 
and your allies everything to which you give, as you needs 
must, the name of religion. He returned again and again 
to Spinoza for spiritual light and strength, and the Ethics 
continued to be the companion of his old age. 

But, though Goethe s purpose of paying an express 
poetical tribute to Spinoza was not executed, the place 
filled by Spinoza in his thoughts makes itself known in his 

1 Ich ergab mich dieser Lektiire und glaubte, indem ichin mich selbst schaute, 
die Welt niemals so deutlich erblickt zu haben. Aus meinem Leben, book xvi. 
ad init. The passage above translated is towards the end of book xiv. 


writings in manifold ways. In dramatic and lyrical poetry, 
in romance and in proverbs, in Faust and in epigrams, the 
same presence meets us. In fact Spinozism is so widely 
spread and pervading an element in Goethe s works, that for 
that very reason it is useless to give specific instances : if one 
were to begin, one would be launched into a commentary on 
Goethe. The series of poems entitled Gott und Welt may 
be referred to as showing Goethe s speculative tendencies in a 
concentrated form. It was Lessing and Goethe more than 
the philosophers by profession who secured the place of 
Spinoza in modern German thought and literature. The 
work of tracing his influence and recognition down to the 
present time would need a monograph to itself. Novalis, 
Schleiermacher, and Heine may be mentioned as leading 
names among those who from divers quarters and on divers 
occasions have celebrated Spinoza s memory. Heine in 
particular has given to Spinoza some of his most charming 
pages. More lately, a thorough philosophic study of Spinoza 
has, in one remarkable instance, been united with great powers 
of literary expression. Auerbach, the translator of Spinoza s 
works, also stands in the first rank of German novelists, 
One book ( Spinoza, ein Denkerleben ) he has given expressly 
to a story of Spinoza s early life, in which the outlines of fact 
we possess are filled in by a skilled and sympathetic hand. 
For those who can read German, but fear to attack technical 
works on philosophy, there can be no better introduction to 
Spinoza. More than this, Auerbach s other work is full of 
Spinozism ; and at least one of his books carries on the face 
of it the purpose of showing the value of Spinoza s philosophy 
as a working view of life, 

In philosophy Spinozism, to which Kant remained a 
stranger, was largely taken up by his successors. Fichte s 
teaching is widely different from Spinoza s in its method and 
conclusions, but it is evident that he had studied Spinoza and 
felt his power. Some of Fichte s metaphysical interpretations 


of theology have all the appearance of being taken from 
Spinoza with but little alteration. We find in him also a 
short criticism on Spinoza s theory of Substance. 1 Hegel and 
Schelling were more explicit. They both spoke of Spinoza 
with high admiration. To be a philosopher you must first 
be a Spinozist; if you have not Spinozism you have no 
philosophy at all : such were Hegel s repeated sayings. To 
the same effect Schelling said that no one can attain true 
and full knowledge in philosophy who has not at least once 
plunged into the depth of Spinozism. But when Schelling 
and Hegel had occasion, in expounding their own systems, to 
show how much they had improved on Spinoza, they not only 
became critical, but their criticism was hardly respectful. 
Hegel even allowed himself a bad pun on the manner of 
Spinoza s death. 2 Their chief objection to Spinoza s philo 
sophy, so far as it can be made briefly intelligible, is that his 
system of the world is lifeless, rigid, motionless. Schelling 
compares it to Pygmalion s statue before life had been 
breathed into it. Nevertheless it is admitted that Spinoza 
was the founder of modern philosophy ; and this has been 
confirmed by the general voice of German criticism ever 
since. The continuance of philosophical interest in Spinoza 
among German thinkers down to this time is sufficiently 
shown by the amount of discussion which has been specially 
given to him. One school, indeed, which just now is popular, 
regards Spinoza with considerably less favour. This is the 
school of Pessimism, founded on the brilliant extravagances of 
Schopenhauer and the more methodical system of Hartmann. 
Schopenhauer could not abide Spinoza, first, it would seem, 
for being a Jew, and next for being an optimist ; the charge 

) i. 121, ed. 1845. For resemblances see especially Rdigionslehre^ 
lote Vorlesung. 

2 Abgrundder Subslanz ... in clem Alles nur dahin schwindet, alles Lei en 
in sich seibst verkommt ; Spinoza ist selbst .an der Schwindsucht gestorben. 
Hegel s and Schelling s criticisms are collected and - discussed in C. von Orelli s 
Sjinoscts Leben nnd Lchre, Aarau, 1850. 


of optimism being established by the simple assertion that 
pantheism is essentially and necessarily optimism. Yet 
Spinoza neither maintains that the universe as a whole is to 
be called good or the best possible (for these with him are 
purely relative conceptions), nor does he anywhere commit 
himself to any opinion as to the actual balance of pain and 
pleasure in the world. Schopenhauer does not trouble him 
self with these distinctions. He makes an end of Spinoza in 
three or four pages of dashing criticism, calls him an uncon 
scious materialist, among other names, and goes out of his 
way to cast a gross insult on Spinoza s race. 1 Hartmann 
deals with Spinoza much more soberly, neither vituperates 
nor misrepresents him, and sometimes quotes him with 
approval. But Spinoza s general habit of mind is of course 
as entirely opposed to dogmatic pessimism as to dogmatic 
optimism ; and those who find their philosophic satisfaction 
in pessimism cannot be expected to have much sympathy 
for him. On the other hand, this estrangement, whatever its 
amount may be, seems likely to be compensated or more 
than compensated by increased appreciation of Spinoza from 
the scientific side. Miiller s testimony as to his account of 
the passions has already been quoted. Even more important 
is the striking likeness between Spinoza s results and those 
reached in our time by workers who, like Wundt and Haeckel 
in Germany, and Taine in France, have come to psychological 
questions through physiology, or taken the equivalent precau 
tion of informing their philosophic judgment with competent 
physiological instruction. It may be safely affirmed, I think, 
that Spinoza tends more and more to become the philosopher 
of men of science. 

The German restoration of Spinoza was yet new when 
Coleridge, foremost in transplanting hither the fruits of the 

1 Die Philosophic dtr Nciienn, in Fragmanle zitr Gcsch. dcr Philosophic (vol. 
V. of works, ed. Frauenstadt). The almost incredible piece of bad taste referred 
to, which I do not care to repeat, is on p. 78. 


great revival of German culture, began to speak and write of 
him in England. The immediate effect, it is true, was 
nothing conspicuous; nevertheless the present appreciation 
of Spinoza in this country must be ascribed to Coleridge more 
than to any other one man. For the bulk of readers he spoke 
in parables ; but (in this resembling Lessing) he did some 
thing even better than teaching the public ; he taught their 
teachers. His written and spoken words were treasured by a 
select circle of those who formed the literature and literary 
habits of the next generation. At one time he talked much 
of Spinoza with Wordsworth, as we know from a droll anec 
dote told by Coleridge himself. It was in the first fever of 
the great war with France, when the minds of loyal subjects 
were haunted by red spectres of Jacobin clubs and corre 
sponding societies. Coleridge and Wordsworth were staying 
peaceably enough in Somersetshire, with no manner of treason 
in their thoughts. But at that time whoever was not a Tory 
was held little better than a Jacobin, and they fell under sus 
picion. The rest shall be told in Coleridge s own words. 

1 The dark guesses of some zealous Quidnunc met with so con 
genial a soil in the grave alarm of a titled Dogberry of our neighbour 
hood, that a spy was actually sent down from the government pour 
surveillance of myself and friend. There must have been not only 
abundance but variety of these " honourable men " at the disposal of 
Ministers ; for this proved a very honest fellow. After three weeks 
truly Indian perseverance in tracking us (for we were commonly 
together) during all which time seldom were we out of doors but he 
contrived to be within hearing (and all the while utterly unsus 
pected ; how indeed could such a suspicion enter our fancies ?) he 
not only rejected Sir Dogberry s request that he would try yet a 
little longer, but declared to him his belief that both my friend and 
myself were as good subjects, for aught he could discover to the con 
trary, as any in His Majesty s dominions. He had repeatedly hid him 
self, he said, for hours together behind a bank at the sea-side (our 
favourite seat) and overheard our conversation. At first he fancied 
that we were aware of our danger ; for he often heard me talk of one 
Spy Nozy, which he was inclined to interpret of himself, and of a 


remarkable feature belonging to him ; but he was speedily convinced 
that it was the name of a man who* had made a book and lived long 
ago. 1 

What Coleridge thought of Spinoza s importance as a 
philosopher is to be gathered from various scattered notices. 
A pencil note made by him in a copy of Schelling s philoso 
phical works runs as follows : 

* I believe in my depth of being that the three great works since 
the introduction of Christianity are Bacon s " Novum Organum," and 
his other works, so far as they are commentaries on it ; Spinoza s 
" Ethics," with his letters and other pieces, as far as they are comments 
on his Ethics ; and Kant s " Critique of the Pure Reason," and his 
other works as commentaries on and applications of the same. 2 

At the same time Coleridge was neither a Spinozist nor a 
Kantian. His position as regards Spinoza was not altogether 
unlike Jacobi s, though he would never have expressed him 
self so crudely as Jacobi did on the consequences of the 
system. While he admired Spinoza both intellectually and 
morally, he could not fully accept his way of thinking. 
Even at a time when he was all but convinced by Spinoza, 
he was not satisfied. * For a very long time, indeed/ he 
writes, -I could not reconcile personality with infinity ; and 
my head was with Spinoza, though my whole heart remained 
with Paul- and John. 3 Crabb Robinson tells in his Diary 4 of 
an interview with Coleridge at which he spoke of the Ethics 
as a book that was a gospel to him, explaining at the same 
time that he nevertheless thought Spinoza s philosophy false. 
Spinoza s system has been demonstrated to be false, but only 
-by that philosophy which has demonstrated the falsehood of 
all other philosophies. Did philosophy commence with an it 
is instead of an / am, Spinoza would be altogether true. 
But somehow this particular utterance of Coleridge s does 
not seem quite so genuine as the others. It is difficult to think 

Biographia Literaria, ch. x. 2 lb. t note 17 to ch. ix. ed. 1847. 

Ib. ch. x. 4 Vol. i. p. 208, 3rd ed. 

D D 


the little scene reported by Crabb Robinson altogether free 
from affectation. There is a touch of deliberate display in 
Coleridge s kissing the frontispiece of the Opera Posthuma ; 
it is almost theatrical. The occasion was his borrowing the 
book of Crabb Robinson. Had he then no copy of his own ? 
However, there can be no doubt that Coleridge s feeling 
about Spinoza was in itself deep and constant. We may be 
sure that when he spoke of him to Wordsworth, it was with 
earnestness and eloquence. And this, when we consider 
Wordsworth s position in English literature, is a matter not 
without importance. It seems not too fanciful to suppose 
that Coleridge s expositions of Spinoza may have counted for 
something in the speculative strain that runs through so much 
of Wordsworth s works, and thence, at one more remove, in the 
study and reverence of nature which most cultivated persons 
now accept as a matter of course, but which in Wordsworth s 
time was new, and to not a few of his critics appeared 
ridiculous. The impulse of artistic nature-worship, derived 
mainly from Wordsworth, has been the source, in one way or 
another, of nearly everything that has had real life and power 
in the English art and poetry of this century. Let it not be 
supposed that in saying this we claim Wordsworth as a 
Spinozist. The views of man and the world more or less 
systematically expressed by him are wholly different from 
Spinoza s, though it would not be difficult to find apparent 
parallels in detail ; l and on the other hand, there are only the 
slightest hints in Spinoza himself of the possible artistic 
bearings of Spinozism. But here we are considering not 
opinions or propositions which can be followed or discarded, 
nor even an intellectual habit, but an aesthetic temper which 
may be induced in imaginative minds by contact with forms 
and systems of thought aiming in the first instance at quite 
other ends. This kind of influence is consistent with indif- 

1 Compare, for instance, Spinoza s ornnia, diversis tainen gradibus, animata 
sunt, with Wordsworth s Lines written in Early Spring. 


ference or even opposition in other regions. And, whatever 
may be thought of the influence on Wordsworth of Coleridge s 
modified Spinozism, it is certain that Coleridge and Words 
worth, above all others, so transformed the intellectual at 
mosphere of England as to make it possible that Spinoza 
should in due time be studied with care and intelligence even 
by those who did not go with him in his conclusions. 

Another foremost poet of that time is now known to have 
been an eager student of the Tractatus Theologico-politicus, 
if not of the metaphysical part of Spinoza s work. A quota 
tion from the Tractatus appears in the notes to the original 
edition of Shelley s Queen Mab/ and he began an English 
translation of it. A. fragment of the MS. came by some 
means into the hands of Mr. C. S. Middleton, the author 
of a book on Shelley and his Writings (London, 1858). Mr. 
Middleton took this for an original work of Shelley s, one of 
the school-boy speculations alluded to by Medwin/ and con 
sidered it too crude for publication entire ! 1 In the winter 
of 1821-2 Shelley was at work on this translation, and ob 
tained a promise from Byron to write a life of Spinoza by 
way of preface to it. 2 The Tractatus Theologico-politicus 
translated by Shelley and introduced by Byron would have 
been a striking addition to the philosophizing of poets. But 
the plan was soon cut short by Shelley s death ; and though 
he seems to have made some way in the translation, none of 
it has been found, save the fragment above mentioned (perhaps 
a rough draft), which he had probably left with other papers 
in England, 

Nearly half a century passed from the time when 

1 The true source of the fragment way pointed out by Mr. J. Oxenford. Mr. 
Middleton, in acknowledging the correction, suggested that Shelley had used not 
Spinoza s Latin, but a French version (Athenaeum, Jan.-June, 1858, pp. 211-243). 
But Shelley cites the Latin in his notes to Queen Mab ; and I find his English 
distinctly nearer to the Latin than to the old French translation of 1678, the only 
one then in existence. 

2 See Introduction, p. xx. 

D D 2 


Coleridge was overheard talking of the mysterious Spy 
Nozy before Spinoza was taken up in a serious way by 
English philosophical criticism. Among the first to draw 
attention to him were two men of extremely different habits 
of thought, F. D. Maurice and G. H. Lewes. They ap 
proached Spinoza from their diverse points of view, the one 
holding a transcendental philosophy which almost merged in 
theology, the other thinking (at least when he first wrote of 
Spinoza) that philosophy was impossible. They naturally 
criticized Spinoza s system on widely different grounds ; but 
they nevertheless agreed in something really more important, 
for they vied with one another in appreciating his moral and 
intellectual grandeur. Lewes s work on this subject ranges 
over a long time, and in its latest form is still recent ; many 
English readers must owe to it their first conception of 
Spinoza s worth, and have been determined by it to study 
him at first hand. Two English writers who are still living, 
and distinguished in other fields of literature, Mr. Matthew 
Arnold and Mr. Froude, have made brilliant contributions to 
the knowledge of Spinoza in this country. But as to Mr. 
Arnold s essay on the Tractatus Theologico-politicus, I 
find one serious ground of complaint, that he has not written 
another on the Ethics. 

In France the study of Spinoza was taken up from 
Germany by the school of philosophical criticism of which 
Victor Cousin was the chief. The tendency of the school 
was hostile to Spinoza s philosophy and all ways of thinking 
allied to it, and remains so to this day so far as its traditions 
have been kept up. Nothing else could be expected from 
a philosophy which was in effect a revival of French Car- 
tesianism and was proud of its ancestry. But if Spinoza met 
with little sympathy from French philosophers of the official 
school which, as a school, may be now considered extinct- 
he met with careful discussion, The introduction to Saisset s 
translation of his works is about the best adverse criticism of 


Spinoza with which I am acquainted. More lately Spinoza 
has been handled by M. Paul Janet in the candid and im 
partial spirit of the scientific historian, and by M. Renan 
with delicate insight and sympathy, and the eloquence of 
which he is an unrivalled master. Meanwhile philosophy is 
being more and more followed in France, as well as elsewhere, 
in a spirit of disinterested earnestness and with a faithfulness 
to scientific method of which much may be expected in no 
distant future. In this movement there is yet another assur 
ance that Spinoza will not fail to receive his due from the 
best and most vigorous thought of modern France. 

M. Taine, who stands at the head of the French scientific 
school, has given in his principal work, De 1 Intelligence, a 
discussion of the relations of mind and matter which is 
thoroughly in accordance with the spirit of Spinoza s doctrine. 
I refer especially to his development of the thesis, la nature 
a deux faces/ where the coincidence is complete, or all but 
complete. 1 

Turning our eyes, again to Spinoza s own land, we find in 
the last twenty years a revival of interest in him which, 
though late in its beginning, has already obtained consider 
able importance. The way was led by Dr. van Vloten, to 
whom is due the first publication of Spinoza s Essay of God 
and Man, and of several letters and parts of letters which had 
been withheld by the original editors of the Opera Posthuma. 
Other scholars and critics have followed him with good effect, 
and the two-hundredth anniversary of Spinoza s death, which 
fell in 1877, gave occasion for a sort of concentration of their 
activity. It was decided to invite subscriptions from all 
civilized countries in order to erect a statue of Spinoza at the 
Hague, in sight of the spot where he passed the latter years 
of his life. This project could not be carried out in time 
for the anniversary itself, which was nevertheless fitly 
celebrated, M. Renan contributing a discourse of which 

1 De r Intelligence, Part I. Bk. 4, ch. ii., and Part II. Bk. 2, ch. i. 


something has already been said. At the same time Pro 
fessor Land of Leyden gave a special lecture on Spinoza s 
philosophy in the regular academic course, which has been 
printed with illustrative and critical notes, and in this 
form constitutes one of the most valuable monographs we 
now possess on the subject. Altogether, Spinoza has fared 
better in his own country in the last few years than he ever 
did before. Neither has reaction been wanting to prove the 
solidity of the movement, if more proof were needed. There 
was a pretty sharp recrudescence among orthodox journal 
ists, critics, and theologians of the old polemic against 
Spinoza. Some of these criticisms were able and digni 
fied, but the greater part copied with little alteration the 
violence and ignorance exhibited by their predecessors two 
centuries ago. I had the advantage of seeing a set of 
articles from a certain Flemish ultramontane journal, which 
not only pronounced Spinoza a second-rate sophist, but 
would not allow M. Renan to be capable of writing French. 
His style was gravely described as flasque et enerve. 
It would be difficult to decide whether this remarkable judg 
ment proceeded from the imbecility of impotent rage, or from 
the impudence of a dogmatist assured that his audience 
would accept anything. 

However, the plan formed by a committee of Dutch 
scholars to do honour to Spinoza in his dwelling-place met 
with no serious obstacle beyond a certain amount of un 
avoidable delay. Subscriptions came in gradually indeed, 
but in sufficient amount to ensure ultimate success ; and it is 
worth noting that, next to the Netherlands, Great Britain 
bore the chief part in this work. But of the designs for a 
statue which were furnished by several competitors, that of 
M. Frederic Hexamer, a young Parisian sculptor, was chosen 
by the Committee. The bronze casting was completed in 
the course of the present year, and on September 14 the 
monument was unveiled and handed over to the municipal 


authorities of the Hague. Meanwhile, by a happy coinci 
dence, the house in the Paviljoensgracht where Spinoza 
lodged had been identified beyond doubt, though the 
fabric has been rebuilt since his time. The spot is now 
marked by a tablet let into the wall, and inscribed with a 
short record. But a word must be said of M. Hexamer s 
work : it presents the philosopher in a siting posture, his 
head bending down on one hand as if making a pause in his 
writing to think over some new question. The figure, as 
befits the subject, is dignified, not by idealised features or 
any conventional pose, but simply by being natural and 
unaffected. The pedestal bears for all inscription the one 
word : SPINOZA. This is as it should be, for thus the be 
holder has no particular gloss on Spinoza s teaching thrust 
upon him, and may rest undisturbed in that way of regarding 
Spinoza s worth which suits him best. Thus, too, it is made 
manifest, as was from the first the earnest desire of all con 
cerned, that the homage paid to Spinoza is not that of any 
particular school or sect. There have appeared as fellow- 
workers in this cause men whose general philosophical 
opinions, whose readings of Spinoza s doctrine, and whose 
estimate of its value as a finished system of thought, are 
widely different. For like reasons the assistance of students 
of philosophy in other lands was invited, not so much in 
the hope of obtaining large contributions as for the sake 
of showing that Spinoza s fame belongs not to one country, 
but to every place where men are found to think seriously 
on the deepest problems of life. The names of men illus 
trious in philosophy and literature in England, France, and 
Germany, men otherwise separated from one another in their 
occupations, pursuits, and beliefs, were inscribed side by side 
on the roll of supporters. And thus the nature and the 
power of Spinoza s work are most fitly symbolized ; thus he 
would himself have desired to be commemorated. His aim 
was not to leave behind him disciples pledged to the letter of 


his teaching, but to lead men to think with him by teaching 
them to think freely and rightly for themselves. We said at 
the beginning of this chapter that Spinozism, as a living and 
constructive force, is not a system but a habit of mind. And, 
as science makes it plainer every day that there is no such 
thing as a fixed equilibrium either in the world without or in 
the mind within, so it becomes plain that the genuine and 
durable triumphs of philosophy are not in systems but in ideas. 
Wealth in vital ideas is the real test of a philosopher s great 
ness, and by this test the name of Spinoza stands assured of 
its rank among the greatest. We who have thus far en 
deavoured, however imperfectly, to follow the working of 
Spinoza s mind, and to explain his thoughts in the language of 
our own time, honour him even more for that which he sug 
gested, seeing the far-off dawn of new truths as in a vision, 
than for that which his hands made perfect. Not even from 
those whom we most reverence can we accept any system as 
final. A speculative system is a work of art ; it is an attempt 
to fix an ideal, and in the very act of thought which marks it 
off with individual form the ideal is transformed and drawn 
up into a still unexplored region. Experience and science 
combine to warn us against putting our faith in symbols which 
should be but aids to thought. The word that lived on the 
master s lips becomes a dead catchword in the mouth of 
scholars who have learnt only half his lesson. And therefore 
it will still be in time to come that when men of impatient 
mind cry out for systems and formulas, demanding to possess 
the secret of all wisdom once for all, there will be no better 
answer for them than was given long ago by the son of 
Sirach : The first man knew her not perfectly ; no more shall 
the last find her out. For her thoughts are more than the sea, 
and her counsels prof ounder than the great deep. 




The English version of Colerus is an indifferently printed small octavo 
of 92 pages. I do not know that it has ever been reprinted. In the present 
reprint obvious errors and misprints in English words, such as absur d for 
absurd, Jugdment, Preson, for Judgment, Person, and the like, as well as 
obvious errors of the press in punctuation, have been tacitly corrected ; but all 
genuine peculiarities of spelling, punctuation, &c., have been preserved, even 
to such blunders as essensnally for essentially. These things belong to the 
character of the time no less than the style of the writing itself. 

Another little book, entitled < An Account of the Life and Writings of 
Spinosa &c. (London, 1720, 8vo. Bibliogr. no. 105) is a servile abridgment of 
this translation, pp. 1-27, followed by an epitome of the Tractatus Theologico- 
politicus, pp. 28-96. 






S P I N O S A. 

Written by John Colerus, Minister 

of the Lutheran Church, at the 


Done out of French. 


Printed by D. L. And Sold by Benj. Bragg, 
at the Raven in Pater-Nosier Row, 1706. 



B. D e S p in o s a. 

, that Philosopher, whose name makes so great noise in 
the World, was originally a Jew. His parents, a little while 
after his birth, named him Baruch. But having afterwards forsaken 
Judaism, he changed his Name, and call d himself Benedict in his 
Writings, and in the Letters which he subscrib d. He was Born at 
Amsterdam the 24th of November ; in the Year 1632. What is com 
monly said, that he was Poor and of a very mean Extraction, is not 
true. His Father, a Portuguese Jew, was in very good Circumstances, 
and a Merchant at Amsterdam, where he lived upon the Burgwal, in 
a good House near the Old Portuguese Synagogue. Besides, his civil 
and handsome behaviour, his Relations, who lived at ease, and what 
was left to him by his Father and Mother, prove that his Extraction, 
as well as his Education, was above that of the Common People. 
Samuel Careens, a Portuguese Jew, married the Youngest of his two 
Sisters. The name of the Eldest was Rebeckah, and that of the 
Youngest Miriam, whose Son Daniel Career is, Nephew to Benedict 
de Spinosa, declared himself one of his Heirs after his Decease : As it 
appears by an Act past before Libertus Loef, a Notary, the 3oth of 
March 1677, m the form of a Procuration directed to Henry Vander 
Spyck, in whose House Spinosa Lodged when he died. 

Spinosa s first Studies. 

Spinosa shewed from his Childhood, and in his younger years, 
that Nature had not been unkind to him. His quick fancy, and his 
ready and penetrating Wit were easily perceived. Because he had a 
great Mind to learn the Latin Tongue, they gave him at first a 
German Master. But afterwards in order to perfect himself in that 


Language, he made use of the famous Francis Vanden Ende, who 
taught it then in Amsterdam, and practis d Physick at the same time : 
That Man taught with good Success and a great Reputation ; so that 
the Richest Merchants of that City intrusted him with the instruction 
of their Children, before they had found out that he taught his 
Scholars something else besides Latin. For it was discovered at 
last, that he sowed the first Seeds of Atheism in the Minds of those 
Young Boys. This is a matter of fact, which I cou j d prove, if there 
was any necessity for it, by the Testimony of several honest Gentle 
men, who are still living, and some of whom have been Elders of the 
Lutheran Church at Amsterdam. Those good men bless every day 
the Memory of their Parents, who took care in due time to remove 
them from the School of so pernicious and so impious a Master. 

Vanden Ende had an only Daughter, who understood the Latin 
Tongue, as well as Musick, so perfectly, that she was able to teach 
her Fathers Scholars in his absence. Spinosa having often occasion 
to see and speak to her, grew in Love with her, and he has often 
confest that he design d to marry her. She was none of the most 
Beautiful, but she had a great deal of Wit, a great Capacity and a 
jovial Humour, which wrought upon the Heart of Spinosa, as well as 
upon another Scholar of Vanden Ende, whose name was Kerkering, a 
Native of Hamburgh, The latter did soon perceive that he had a 
Rival, and grew Jealous of him. This moved him to redouble his 
care, and his attendance upon his Mistress : which he did with good 
success : But a Neck-lace of Pearls, of the value of two or three 
hundred Pistoles, which he had before presented to that Young 
Woman, did without doubt contribute to win her Affection. She 
therefore promised to Marry him : Which she did faithfully perform, 
when the Sieur Kerkering had abjured the Lutheran Religion, which 
he profest, and embraced the Roman Catholick. See the preface of 
Kortholt de tribus Impostoribus, of the 2nd Edition. 

As for Vanden Ende, being too well known in Holland, to find 
any Employment there, he was obliged to look for it somewhere else. 
He went into France, where he had a Tragical end, after he had 
maintained himself for some years with what he got by practising 
Physick. Some say that he was Condemn d to be hanged, and 
Executed, for having attempted upon the Dauphin s Life ; but others, 
who knew him particularly in France, own indeed that he was hanged, 
but they give another reason for it. They say that Vanden Ende 
endeavour d to cause an Insurrection in one of the Provinces of 
France^ the Inhabitants whereof hoped by that means to be restored 


to their Ancient Priviledges ; and that he designed thereby to free 
the United Provinces from the oppression they were under, by 
giving so much work to the King of France in his own Country, as 
to oblige him to keep a great part of his Forces in that Kingdom. 
That in order to facilitate the Execution of that design, some Ships 
were fitted out, but that they arrived too late. However it be, Van- 
den Ende was executed, but if he had attempted upon the Dauphin s 
Life, tis likely that he wou d have expiated his crime in another 
manner, and by a more rigorous Punishment. 

He applies Himself to the Study of Divinity, and then to 
I Natural Philosophy. 

Spinosa having learn d the Latin Tongue well, applied him 
self to the Study of Divinity for some years. In the mean time 
his Wit and Judgment encreased every day : So that finding himself 
more disposed to enquire into Natural Causes, he gave over Divinity, 
and betook himself altogether to the Study of Natural Philosophy. 
He did for a long time deliberate about the choice he shou d make 
of a Master, whose Writing might serve him as a Guide in his design. 
At last, having light upon the Works of Descartes, he read them 
greedily; and afterwards he often declared that he had all his 
Philosophical Knowledge from him. He was charmed with that 
Maxim of Descartes, Which says, That nothing ought to be admitted as 
True, but what has been proved by good and solid Reasons. From 
whence he drew this Consequence, that the ridiculous Doctrine and 
Principles of the Rabbins cou d not be admitted by a Man of Sense ; 
because they are only built upon the Authority of the Rabbins them 
selves, and because what they teach, does not proceed from God, 
as -they pretend without any ground for it, and without the least 
appearance of Reason. 

From that time he began to be very much reserved amongst the 
Jewish Doctors, whom he shunned as much as he cou d : He was 
seldom seen in their Synagogues, whither he went only perfunctorily, 
which exasperated them against him to the highest degree ; for they 
did not doubt but that he wou d soon leave them, and make himself 
a Christian. Yet, to speak the truth, he never embraced Christianity, 
nor received the Holy Baptism : And tho he had frequent conversa 
tions with some learn d Mennonites, as well as with the most emmen 
Divines of other Christian Sects, yet he never declared for, nor 
profest himself to be a Member of any of them. 


Francis Halma says, in the Account of Spinosa, which he 
published in Dutch? that the Jews offered him a Pension a little 
while before his Desertion, to engage him to remain amongst em, and 
to appear now and then in their Synagogues. This Spinosa himself 
affirmed several times to the Sieur Vander Spyck, his Landlord, and 
to some other Persons ; adding, that the Pension, which the Rabbins 
design d to give him, amounted to 1000 Florins. But he protested 
at the same time, that if they had offered him ten times as much, he 
wou d not have accepted of it, nor frequented their Assemblies out 
of such a motive ; because he was not a Hypocrite, and minded 
nothing but Truth. Monsieur Bayle tells us, That he happen d one 
day to be assaulted by a Jew, as he was coming out of the Play 
house, who wounded him in the Face with a Knife, and that Spinosa 
knew that the Jew design d to kill him, tho his wound was not danger 
ous. But Spinosa! s Landlord and his Wife, who are still living, give 
me quite another account of it. They had it from Spinosa himself, 
who did often tell them, that one evening as he was coming out of the 
Old Portuguese Synagogue, he saw a Man by him with a Dagger in 
his Hand ; whereupon standing upon his guard, and going back 
wards, he avoided the blow, which reached no farther than his 
Cloaths. He kept still the Coat that was run thro with the Dagger, 
as a Memorial of that event. Afterwards, not thinking himself to be 
safe at Amsterdam, he resolved to retire somewhere else with the 
first opportunity. Besides, he was desirous to go on with his Studies 
and Physical Meditations in a quiet Retreat. 

He was excommunicated by the Jews. 

HE had no sooner left the Communion of the Jews, but they pro 
secuted him Juridically according to their Ecclesiastical Laws, and 
Excommunicated him. He himself did very often own that he was 
Excommunicated by them, and declared, that from that time he 
broke all Friendship and Correspondence with them. Some Jews 
of Amsterdam, who knew Spinosa very well, have also confirmed to 
me the truth of that fact, adding, that the Sentence of Excom 
munication was publickly pronounced by the Old Man Chacham 
Abuabh, a Rabbin of great Reputation amongst em. I have 
desired in vain the Sons of that old Rabbin to communicate that 
Sentence to me; they answered me, that they could not find it 

1 [This was a translation from Bayle s Dictionary > as Colerus himself afterwards 


amongst the Papers of their Father, but I cou d easily perceive that 
they had no mind to impart it to me. 1 

Spinosa learns a Trade or a Mechanical Art. 

THE Law and the antient Jewish Doctors do expressly say, that 
it is not enough for a man to be learned, but that he ought besides to 
learn a Profession or a Mechanical Art, that it may be a help to him 
in case of necessity, and that he may get wherewith to maintain him 
self. This Rabbin Gamaliel does positively say in the Treatise of 
the Talmuel Pirke avoth Chap. 2. where he teaches, that the study of 
the Law is a very desirable thing, when it is attended with a Profession 
or a Mechanical Art : For, says he, a continual application to those 
two exercises keeps a Man from doing Evil, and makes him forget it ; 
and every Learned Man who neglects to learn a Profession, will at 
last turn a loose Man. And Rabbi Jehuda adds, that every Man, who 
does not take care that his children shou d learn a Trade, does the 
same thing as if he taught them how to become High-way-men. 

Spinosa being well versed in the Study of the Law, and of the 
Customs of the Ancients, was not ignorant of those Maxims, and did 
not forget them, tho he was separated from the Jews, and excommu 
nicated by them. Because they are wise and reasonable Maxims he 
made a good use of em, and learned a Mechanical Art before he 
embraced a quiet and a retir d Life, as he was resolv d to do. He 
learned therefore to make Glasses for Telescopes, and for some 
other uses, and succeeded so well therein, that People came to him 
from all Parts to buy them ; which did sufficiently afford him where 
with to live and maintain himself. A considerable number of those 
Glasses, which he had polished, were found in his Cabinet after his 
death, and sold pretty dear, as it appears by the Register of the 
Publick Cryer, who was present at the Sale of his Goods. 

After he had perfected himself in that Art, he apply d himself to 
Drawing, which he learn d of himself, and he cou d draw a Head very 
well with Ink, or with a Coal. I have in my Hands a whole Book of 
such Draughts, amongst which there are some Heads of several con 
siderable Persons, who were known to him, or who had occasion to 

1 Golems proceeds to discuss the Jewish law and practice of excommunication, 
and inserts a form communicated to him by Surenhusius. The shorter form 
actually used in Spinoza s case, and first made known by Van Vloten, has already 
been given in the text, p. 18 above. A revised version of that set out by 
Colerus may be seen in G. H. Lewes s Hist, of Philosophy, ii. 165 (s 

E li 


visit him. Among those Draughts I find in the 4th Sheet a Fisher 
man having only his Shirt on, with a Net on his Right Shoulder, whose 
Attitude is very much like that of Massanello * the famous Head of 
the Rebels of Naples -, as it appears by History, and by his Cuts. 2 
Which gives me occasion to add, that Mr. Vander Spyck, at whose 
House Spinosa lodged when he died, has assured me, that the Draught 
of that Fisherman did perfectly resemble Spinosa, and that he had 
certainly drawn himself. I need not mention the considerable 
Persons, whose Heads are likewise to be found in this Book, amongst 
his other Draughts. 

Thus he was able to maintain himself with the work of his Hands, 
and to mind his Study, as he design d to do. So that having no 
occasion to stay longer in Amsterdam, he left it, and took Lodgings 
in the House of one of his Acquaintance, who lived upon the Road 
from Amsterdam to Auwerkerke. He spent his time there in study 
ing, and working his Glasses. When they were polished, his Friends 
took care to send for them, to sell em, and to remit his Money to 

He went to live at Rynsburg, afterwards at Voorburg, and at 
last at the Hague. 

IN the year 1664 Spinosa left that place, and retired to Rynsburg 
near Ley den, where he spent all the Winter, and then he went to 
Voorburg, a league from the Hague, as he himself says, in his 30 th 
Letter written to Peter Balling? He lived there, as I am informed, 
three or four years ; during which time, he got a great many Friends 
at the Hague, who were all distinguisht by their Quality, or by Civil 
and Military Employments. They were often in his Company, and 
took a great delight in hearing him discourse. It was at their re 
quest that he settl d himself at the Hague 2^ last, where he boarded at 
first upon the Veerkaay, at a Widow s whose Name was Van Velden, in 
the same House where I lodge at present. The Room wherein I study, 
at the further end of the House backward, two pair of Stairs, is the 
same where he lay, and where he did work and study. He wou d 
very often have his Meat brought into that Room, where he kept 
sometimes two or three days, without seeing any Body. But being 
sensible that he spent a little too much for his Boarding, he took a 

1 Sic, 

2 Fn comme il est represente dans 1 Histoire et en Taille-douce. 
B Misprinted Railing in the English version* 


Room upon the Pavilioengracht, behind my House, at Mr. Henry 
Vander Spyck s, whom I have often mention d, where he took care to 
furnish himself with Meat and Drink, and where he lived a very 
retired Life, according to his fancy. 

He was very Sober, and very Frugal. 

IT is scarce credible how sober and frugal he was all the time. Not 
that he was reduced to so great a Poverty, as not to be able to spend 
more, if he had been willing ; he had Friends enough, who offered 
him their Purses, and all manner of assistance : But he was naturally 
very sober, and could be satisfied with little ; and he did not care 
that People shou d think that he had lived, even but once, at the 
expence of other Men. What I say about his Sobriety and good 
Husbandry, may be prov d by several small Reckonings, which have 
been found amongst his Papers after his death. It appears by them, 
that he lived a whole day upon a Milk-soop done with Butter, which 
amounted to three pence, and upon a Pot of Beer of three half pence. 
Another day he eat nothing but Gruel done with Raisins and 
Butter, and that Dish cost him fourpence half penny. There are 
but two half pints of Wine at most for one Month to be found 
amongst those Reckonings, and tho he was often invited to eat with 
his Friends, he chose rather to live upon what he had at home, tho 
it were never so little, than to sit down at a good Table at the expence 
of another Man. 

Thus he spent the remaining part of his Life in the House of his 
last Landlord, which was somewhat above five years and a half. 
He was very careful to cast up his Accounts every Quarter ; which 
he did, that he might spend neither more nor less than what he could 
spend every year. And he would say sometimes to the people of the 
House, that he was like the Serpent, who forms a Circle with his 
Tail in his Mouth ; to denote that he had nothing left at the years 
end. He added, that he design d to lay up no more Money than 
what would be necessary for him to have a decent Burying ; and 
that, as his Parents had left him nothing, so his Heirs and Relations 
should not expect to get much by his Death. 

His Person, and his way of Dressing himself. 

As for his Person, his Size, and the features of his Face, there 
are still many people at the Hague, who saw and knew him par 
ticularly. He was of a middle size, he had good features in his Face, 

* E E 2 


the Skin somewhat black, black curl d Hair, long Eye-brows, and of 
the same Colour, so that one might easily know by his Looks that 
he was descended from Portuguese Jews. As for his Cloaths, he was 
very careless of em, and they were not better than those of the 
meanest Citizen. One of the most eminent Councellors of State 
went to see him, and found him in a very slovenly Morning-Gown, 
whereupon the Councellor blam d him for it, and ofTer d him another. 
Spinosa answer d him, that a Man was never the better for having a 
finer Gown. To which he added, It is unreasonable to wrap up things 
cf little or no value in a precious Covert 

His Manners, his Conversation, and his Uninterestedness. 

IF he was very frugal in his way of living, his Conversation was 
also very sweet and easy. He knew admirably well how to be 
master of his Passions : He was never seen very melancholy, nor 
very merry. He had the command of his Anger, and if at any time 
he was uneasy in his mind, it did not appear outwardly ; or if he 
happen d to express his grief by some gestures, or by some words, he 
never fail d to retire immediately, for fear of doing an unbecoming 
thing. He was besides, very courteous and obliging, he would 
very often discourse with his Landlady, especially when she lay in, 
and with the people of the House, when they happen d to be sick or 
afflicted ; he never fail d then to confort 2 em, and exhort them to 
bear with Patience those Evils, which God assigned to them as a 
Lot. He put the Children in mind of going often to Church, and 
taught them to be obedient and dutiful to their Parents. When the 
people of the House came from Church, he wou d often ask them 
what they had learn d, and what they cou d remember of the Sermon. 
He had a great esteem for Dr. Cordes, my Predecessor ; who was a 
learned and good natured Man, and of an exemplary Life, which 

1 But see the Treatise of God and Man, part ii. cap. 12, where Spinoza says 
that it is fit for us to take notice of men s common feelings and prejudices, and 
that sometimes we are even bound to abridge our otherwise lawful freedom : thus 
it is wrong to wear costly apparel for mere show and selfish pride : but if a man 
sees that his wisdom, whereby he might profit his neighbours, is despised and 
trodden under foot because he is ill clad, then he does well to furnish himself 

from desire to help his neighbours) with such clothing as offends them not. We 
may therefore believe Lucas when he tells us that Spinoza, so far from being 
habitually careless of his appearance, was scrupulously neat : il ne sortoit jamais 
qu on ne vit paroitre en ses habits ce qiri distingue d ordinaire un honnete Homme 
d un Pedant. 

2 Sic. 


gave occasion to Spinosa to praise him very often. Nay, he went 
sometimes to hear him preach, and he esteem d particularly his 
learned way of explaining the Scripture, and the solid applications 
he made of it. He advised at the same time his Landlord and the 
People of the House, not to miss any Sermon of so excellent a 

It happen d one day, that his Landlady ask d him whether 
he believed, she cou d be saved in the Religion she profest : He 
answered, Your Religion is a good one, you need not look for another, 
nor doubt that you may be saved in it, provided, whilst you apply your 
self to Piety , you live at the same time a peaceable and quiet Life. 

When he staid at home, he was troublesome to no Body ; he spent 
the greatest part of his time quietly in his own Chamber. When he 
happen d to be tired by having applyed himself too much to his Phi 
losophical Meditations, he went down Stairs to refresh himself, and 
discoursed with the people of the House about any thing, that might 
afford Matter for an ordinary Conversation, and even about trifles. 
He also took Pleasure in smoaking a Pipe of Tobacco ; or, when he 
had a mind to divert himself somewhat longer, he look d for some 
Spiders, and made em fight together, or he threw some Flies into the 
Cobweb, and was so well pleased with that Battel, that he wou d some 
times break into Laughter. He observed also, with a Microscope, 
the different parts of the smallest Insects, from whence he drew such 
Consequences as seem d to him to agree best with his Discoveries. 

He was no lover of Money, as I have said, and he was very well 
contented to live from Hand to Mouth. Simon de Fries of 
Amsterdam, who expresses a great love for him, in the 26th Letter, 
and calls him his most faithful Friend, Amice integerime? presented 
him one day, with a summ of two thousand Florins, to enable him to 
live a more easie Life ; but Spinosa, in the presence of his Landlord, 
desired to be excused from accepting that Money, under pretence that 
he wanted nothing, and that if he received so much Money, it wou d 
infallibly divert him from his Studies and Occupations. 

The same Simon de Vries being like to die, and having no Wife 
nor Children, design d to make him his general Heir ; but Spinosa 
wou d never consent to it, and told him, that he shou d not think to 
leave his Estate to any Body but to his Brother, who lived at 
Schiedam, seeing he was his nearest Relation, and natural Heir. 

This was executed as he proposed it ; but it was upon condition, 
that the Brother and Heir of Simon de Vries shou d pay to Spinosa 

1 sic. 


a sufficient Annuity for his maintenance ; and that Clause was like 
wise faithfully executed. But that which is particular, is, that an 
Annuity of 500 Florins was offered to Spinosa by virtue of that 
Clause, which he would not accept, because he found it too consider 
able, so that he reduced it to 300 Florins. That Annuity was 
regularly paid him during his Life ; and the same de Vries of 
Schiedam took care after his death to pay to Mr. Vander Spyck what 
Spinosa owed him, as it appears by the Letter of John Rieuwertz, 
Printer at Amsterdam, who was employed in that Affair. It is dated 
the 6th of March, I678, 1 and directed to Vander Spyck himself. 

Another instance of the Uninterestedness of Spinosa, is what 
past after the death of his Father. His Father s Succession was to 
be divided between him and his Sisters, to which they were con 
demned in Law, tho they had left no Stone unturn d to exclude 
him from it. Yet instead of dividing that Succession, he gave them 
his share, and kept only for himself a good Bed, with its furniture. 

He was known to several Persons of great Consideration. 

Spinosa had no sooner published some of his Works, but he grew 
very famous in the World, amongst the most considerable Persons, 
who look d upon him as a Man of a noble Genius, and a great 
Philosopher. Monsieur Stoupe, Lieutenant-Collonel of a Regiment 
of Swissers, in the service of the King of France, commanded in the 
City of Utrecht in 1673 ; he had been before Minister of the 
Walloon Church? in London, during the Civil Wars of England in 
Cromwell time he was made afterwards a Brigadeer, and was 
killed at the Battel of Steenkirke. Whilst he was at Utrecht, he writ 
a Book entituled, The Religion of the Dutch, wherein he upbraids the 
Reformed Divines, amongst other things, for neglecting to confute 
or answer a Book, which was published under their Eyes, in the year 
1670, entituled Tractatns Theologico-Politicns, whereof Spinosa owned 
himself to be the Author, in his nineteenth Letter. This is what 
Monsieur Stoupe says. 3 But the famous Brannius, Professor of the 
University of Groningen, shewed the contrary in his Answer to Mon 
sieur Stoupe V Book : And indeed so many Books published against that 
abominable Treatise, do evidently shew that Monsieur Stoupe was 
mistaken. At that very time he writ several Letters to Spinoza, from 

1 A mistake for 1677 ? 2 Ministre de la Savoie. 

3 Extracts from his book are given in Paulus s ed. of Spinoza s works, vol. if. 
p. 670. 


whom he received several Answers ; and at last he desired him to 
repair to Utrecht at a certain time. Monsieur Stoupe was so much 
the more desirous that he shou d come thither, because the Prince 
of Conde, who took then possession of the Government of Utrecht, 
had a great mind to discourse with Spinosa : And it was confidently 
reported that his Highness was so well disposed to recommend him 
to the King, that he hoped to obtain easily a Pension for him, 
provided he wou d be willing to dedicate one of his Books to his 
Majesty. He received that Letter with a Passport, and set out from 
the Hague a little while after he had received it. Francis Halma 
says, in his Dutch Account of Spinosa^ that he paid a Visit to the 
Prince of Conde with whom he had several Conversations for 
several days, and with some other Persons of note, particularly with 
Lieutenant Colonel Stoupe. But Vander Spyck and his Wife, in 
whose House he did lodge, and who are still living, have assured me, 
that he told them positively at his return, that he cou d not see the 
Prince of Conde, because he set out from Utrecht some days before 
he arrived there. But that in the discourse he had with Monsieur 
Stoupe, that Officer had assured him, that he wou d willingly use his 
Interest for him, and that he should not doubt to obtain a Pension t 
from the King s Liberality, at his recommendation. Spinosa added 
that, because he did not design to dedicate any Book to the King of 
France, he had refused the offer that was made him, with all the 
civility he was capable of. 

After his return, the Mob at the Hague were extreamly incensed 
against him, they look d upon him as a Spy, and whispered in one 
anothers Ears, that they ought to kill so dangerous a Man, who 
treated, without doubt, of State affairs, keeping so publick a Corres- 
pondance with the Enemies. Spinosds Landlord was alarm d at it, 
and was afraid, not without reason, that the Mob wou d break into 
the House, and perhaps plunder it, and then drag Spinosa out of it : 
But Spinosa put him in heart again, and remov d his fears as well as 
he could. Fear nothing, said he to him, upon my account, I can easily 
justify myself: There are People enough, and even some of the most 
considerable Persons of the State, who know very well what put me 
upon that Journey. But hoiv ever, as soon as the Mob make the least 
noise at your Door, Pll go and meet em, tho 1 they were to treat me, as 

t The King ^France gave at that time Pensions to all learned Men, especially 
to the Strangers, who presented or dedicated some Books to him. 

1 Fr. La Vie de notre Philosophe, qu il a traduite et extraite du Dictionnaire 
de Mr. Bayle. 


they treated poor Messieurs de Wit. / am a good Republican, and / 
always aimed at the Glory and Welfare of the State. 

In that same year Charles Lewis, Elector Palatine, of glorious 
Memory, being informed of the capacity of that great Philosopher, 
was desirous that he shou d come to Heydelberg to teach Philosophy 
there, knowing nothing, without doubt, of the Venom concealed in 
his Breast, and which was more openly manifested afterwards. His 
Electoral Highness ordered the famous Dr. Fabritius, Professor of 
Divinity, a good philosopher, and one of his Councellors, to propose 
it to Spinosa. He offered him in the Prince s Name, with that Pro 
fessorship, a full Liberty of Reasoning according to his Principles, as 
he shou d think fit, cum amplissima Philosophandi libertate. But 
that Offer was attended with a Condition, which Spinosa did not like 
at all. For tho the Liberty granted to him was never so great, yet 
he was not allowed in any manner whatsoever to make use of it, to 
the prejudice of the Religion established by the Laws : As it appears 
by Dr. Fabritiufs Letter dated from Heydelberg the i6th of February. 
See Spinosrfs Opera PostJmma Epist. 53. pag. 561. He is honoured 
in that Letter, with the. Title of most Acute and most Famous Philo 
sopher, Philosophe acutissime ac celeberrime. 

This was a Mine, to which he easily gave Vent, if I may be allowed 
to use such an Expression : He perceived the difficulty, or rather the 
impossibility of reasoning according to his Principles, without ad 
vancing anything that shou d be contrary to the established Religion. 
He return d an Answer to Dr. Fabritius the 3oth of March 1673, and 
refused civilly the Professorship that was offered him. He told him 
that The instruction of young Men wou d prove an Obstacle to his own 
Studies, and that he never had the thoughts of embracing such a Profes 
sion. But this was a meer pretence, and he does plainly enough 
discover his inward thoughts by the following words. " Besides, (says 
" he to the Doctor) I consider that you don t tell me within what 
" bounds that liberty of Philosophizing must be confined, that I may 
" not publickly disturb the established Religion. Cogito deinde me 
nescire quibus limitibus libertas ilia Philosophandi intercludi debeat, ne 
videar publice Stabilitam Religionem perturbare velle. See his Posthu 
mous Works, pag. 563 Epist. 54. 

His Writings, and his Opinions. 

As for his works, there are some, which are ascribed to him, but 
it is not certain that he is the Author of em ; Some are lost, or at 


least are not to be found, others are Printed and exposed to every 
Body s view. 

Monsieur Bayle tells us in his Histtrical and Critical Dictionary, 
that Spinosa writ an Apology in Spanish for his leaving the 
Synagogue ; but that it was never Printed. He adds, that Spinosa 
inserted several things in it, which were found afterwards in his 
Tractatus Theologico-Politicus : But I have not been able to hear any 
thing concerning that Apology ; tho in my enquiries about it I have 
consulted some Persons, who were familiarly acquainted with him, 
and who are alive still. 

He published in the year 1664, Descartes^ Principles of Philo 
sophy Geometrically demonstrated : Reuati Descartes principiorum 
Philosophies pars prima et secunda more Geometrico demonstrate ; 
which were soon followed by his Metaphysical Meditations, Cogitata 
Metaphysica : and had he gone no farther, he might have preserved to 
this day, the deserved Reputation of a Wise and Learned Philosopher. 
In the year 1665 there came out a little Book in Twelves entituled, 
Lutii Antistii Constantis de Jure Ecclesiasticorum. Alethopoli apud 
Caium Valerium pennatum. The author of that Book endeavours to 
prove that the Spiritual and Political Right, which the Clergy ascribe 
to themselves, and which is ascribed to them by others, does not 
belong to them in the least ; that Clergy-men abuse it in a Profane 
manner, and that all their Authority depends upon that of the 
Magistrates or Sovereigns, who are in the place of God, in the Cities 
and Commonwealths wherein the Clergy have established themselves: 
And therefore, that the Ecclesiasticks ought not to take upon them 
selves to teach their own Religion, but that which the Magistrates 
order ; em to Preach. All that Doctrine is built upon the Principles, 
which Hobbes made use of in his Leviathan. Monsieur Bayle tells 
us, that the Style, Principles and Design of Antistiufs Book were 
like that of Spinosa^ which is entituled, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus 
but this does not prove that Spinosa was the Author of it. Tho the 
first Book came out just at the same time that Spinosa began to write 
his ; and tho the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus was published soon 
after ; yet it is not a proof neither, that the one was the fore-runner of 
the other. It may very well be, that two Men will undertake to write 
and advance the same impious things ; and tho their Writings shou d 
come out much about the same time, it cou d not be inferred from 
thence, that they were written by one and the same Author. Spinosa 
himself being asked by a Person of great Consideration, whether he 
was the Author of the first Treatise, denied it positively ; I have it from 


very good Hands. The Latin of those two Books, the Style, and the 
Expressions are not so like neither, as tis pretended : The former ex 
presses himself with a profound respect, when he speaks of God : he 
calls him often Deum ter Optimum Maximum. But I find no such 
Expressions in any part of the writings of Spinosa. 

Several Learned Men have assured me, that the impious Book 
Printed in 1666 in Qtiarto, and entituled, The Holy Scripture 
explained by Philosophy : Philosophia sacrce Scripturce. interpres, and 
the above-mentioned Treatise were both written by one and the 
same author, viz. L. M. and tho the thing seems to me very likely, 
yet I leave it to the judgment of those who may be better informed. 

It was in the year 1670 that Spinosa published his Tractatus 
Theologico-Politicus. He who translated it into Dutch, thought fit to 
entitle it, The judicious and political Divine; De Regtzenninge 1 
Theologant, of Godgeleerde Staatkunde. Spinosa does plainly say 
that he is the Author of it in his iQth Letter, directed to Mr. Olden- 
burgh : He desires him in that same Letter, to send him the Objec 
tions, which Learned Men raised against his Book ; for he design d 
then to get it Re-printed, and to add some Remarks to it. If we be 
lieve the Title Page of that Book, it was Printed at Hamburg, by Henry 
Conrad. But it is certain that the Magistrates, and the Reverend 
Ministers of Hamburg had never permitted, that so many impious 
things shou d have been Printed and publickly sold in their City. 

There is no doubt but that Book was Printed at Amsterdam by 
Christopher Conrad. Being sent for to Amsterdam in 1679 for some 
Business, Conrad himself brought me some copies of that Treatise, 
and presented me with them, not knowing that it was a very per 
nicious Book. 

The Dutch Translator was also pleased to honour the City of 
Bremen with so noble a Production : as if his Translation had come 
from the Press of Hans Jur gel Vander Weyl, in the year 1694. But 
what is said of those Impressions of Bremen and Hamburg is equally 
false : and they would have met with the same difficulties in either of 
those Towns, if they had undertaken to Print and Publish such Books 
therein. Philopater, whom we have already mentioned, does openly 
say in the continuation of his Life, pag. 231, that old John Hendrikzen, 
Glasemaker, whom I knew very well, was the Translator of that 
Book : and he assures us at the same time, that he had likewise 
Translated into Dutch the Posthumous Works of Spinosa, Published 
in 1677. He values and extols so much that Treatise of 


that one would think the World never saw the like. The Author, or 
at least the Printer, of the continuation of Philopater 1 s Life, Aard 
Wolsgryk, heretofore a Bookseller at Amsterdam in the corner ot 
Rosmaryn-Steeg) was punish d for his Insolence, as he deserv d, and 
confm d to the House of Correction, to which he was condemn d for 
some years. I wish, with all my heart, he may have repented of his 
fault during the stay he made in that place ; I hope he came out of 
it with a better mind, and that he was in such a disposition, when I 
saw him here (at the Hague] last Summer, whither he came to be 
paid for some Books, which he had Printed heretofore, and deliver d 
to the Booksellers of this Town. 

To return to Spinosa and his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, I shall 
say what I think of it, after I have set down the judgment, which two 
famous Authors made of it, one whereof was of the Confession of 
Ausburg, 1 and the other Reformed. The first is Spitzelius, who 
speaks of it thus, in his Treatise entituled Infelix Literator^ p. 363. 
"That impious author (Spinosa) blinded by a prodigious pre- 
" sumption, was so impudent and so full of Impiety, as to main- 
" tain that Prophecies were only grounded upon the fancy of the 
" Prophets ; and that the Prophets and the Apostles wrote naturally 
" according to their own light and knowledge, without any Revelation 
" or Order from God : That they accommodated Religion, as well as 
"they cou d, to the Genius of those who lived at that time, and 
" established it upon such Principles as were then well known, and 
" commonly received. Irreliogissimus 3 Author stupenda sui fidentia 
plane fascinates, eo progresses impudentice et impictatis fnit nt pro- 
phetiam dependisse dixerit a fallad imaginatione prophetarum, cosque 
pariter ac Apostolos non ex Revclatione et Divino mandato Scripsisse, 
sed tantum ex ipsorummet naturali jndicio; accommodavisse insuper 
Religionem, quo ad fieri potuit, hominum sui temporis ingenio, illamque 
fundamentis turn temporis maxime notis et acceptis super adificasse. 
Spinosa pretends in his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, that the same 
Method may and ought to be observed still for explaining the Holy 
Scripture ; for he maintains, amongst other things, that, as the 
Scripture, when it was first published, was fitted to the established 
opinions, and to the capacity of the People, so every Body^ is free to 
expound it according to his Knowledge, and make it agree with his own 

If this was true, good Lord ! What respect cou d we have for the 
Scripture? How cou d we maintain that it is Divinely inspired? 
1 Sic. 2 Van der Linde, BiMo%r. no. 358, n. s Sic. 


That it is a sure and firm Prophecy ; that the Holy Men, who are 
the Authors of it, spoke and wrote by God s order, and by the inspira 
tion of the Holy Spirit j that the same Scripture is most certainly true, 
and that it gives a certain Testimony of its Truth to our Consciences ; 
and lastly, that it is a Judge, whose Decisions ought to be the constant 
and unvariable Rule of our Thoughts, of our Faith, and of our Lives. 
If what Spinosa affirms were true, one might indeed very well say, 
that the Bible is a Wax-Nose, which may be turned and shaped at 
one s will ; a Glass, thro which every Body may exactly see what 
pleases his fancy ; a Fool s Cap, which may be turned and fitted at 
one s pleasure a hundred several ways. The Lord confound thee, 
Satan, and stop thy mouth ! 

Spitzelius is not contented to say what he thinks of that per 
nicious Book ; but he adds to the judgment he made of it, that of 
Mr de Mansemld heretofore Professor at Utrecht , who speaks of it 
thus, in a Book Printed at Amsterdam, in 1674. My opinion ts, 
tJiat that Treatise ought to be buried for ever in an (eternal oblivion : 
Tractatum hunc ad ceternas damnandum tenebras, &c. Which is very 
judiciously said ; seeing that Wicked Book does altogether overthrow 
the Christian Religion, by depriving the Sacred Writings of the 
Authority, on which it is solely grounded and established. 

The second Testimony I shall produce is, that of Mr. William 
van Blyenburg of Dordrect? who kept a long correspondence with 
Spinosa^ and who in his 3ist Letter to him (See Spinosa $ Posthumous 
Works pag. 476) says, speaking of himself, that he had embraced no 
Profession, and that he lived by an honest Trade, Liber sum nulli 
adstrictus profession^ honestis mercatnris me alo. That Merchant, who 
is a learned Man, in the Preface of a Book entituled, The truth of the 
Christian Religion, Printed at Ley den, in 1674, gives his judgment 
about the Treatise of Spinosa in these words. It is a Book, says he, 
///// of curious, but abominable discoveries, the Learning and Inquiries 
whereof must needs have been fetched from Hell. Every Christian, nay, 
every Man of Sense, ought to abhor such a Book. The Author en 
deavours to overthrow the Christian Religion, and baffle all our hopes, 
which are grounded upon it: In the room whereof he introduces 
Atheism, or at most, a Natural Religion forged according to the 
humour or interests of the Soveraigns. The wicked shall be restrained 
only by the fear of Punishment ; but a Man of no Conscience, who 
neither fears the Executioner nor the Laws, may attempt anything to 
satisfy himself, &c. 


I must add, that I have read that Book of Spinosa with application 
from the beginning to the end ; but I protest at the same time before 
God, that I have found no solid arguments in it, nor anything that 
cou d shake, in the least, my belief of the Gospel. Instead of solid 
reasons, it contains meer suppositions, and what we call in the 
School, petitiones prindpii. The things which the Author advances, 
are given for Proofs, which being denied and rejected, the remaining 
part of his Treatise will be found to contain nothing but Lies and 
Blasphemies. Did he think that the World wou d believe him 
blindly upon his word, and that he was not obliged to give good 
reasons and good proofs for what he advanced ? 

Lastly, several Writings, which Spinosa left after his death were 
Printed in 1677, in which year he also died. They are called his 
Posthumous Works, Opera Posthnma. These three Letters B. D. S. 
are to be found in the Title of the Book, which contains five several 
works. The first, is a Treatise of Morals demonstrated Geometrically, 
Ethica more Geometrico demonstrata. The second, is about Politicks. 
The third, treats of the Understanding, and of the means of rectify 
ing it, De emendatione Intellect. The fourth, is a Collection of 
Letters, and Answers to them, Epistolce 6- Responsiones. The fifth, 
is an Abridgement of the Hebrew Grammar, Compendium Gram- 
matices Lingua Hebraeas. The Printer s name and the place wherein 
that Book was Printed, are not mention d in the Title-page ; which 
shews that the Person who published it, did not care to be known. 
But Mr. Vander Spyck, Spinosa s Landlord, who is alive still, tells me 
that Spinosa ordered, that immediately after his death, his Desk, 
which contained his Letters and Papers, shou d be sent to John 
Rieuwertzen, a Printer at Amsterdam : Which Vander Spyck did not 
fail to perform according to his Will. And John Rieuwertzen acknow 
ledged that he had received that Desk, as it appears by his Answer 
dated from Amsterdam the 25th of March, 1677. He adds towards the 
latter part of his Letter, that The Relations of Spinosa wou d fain know 
to whom it was directed, because they fancied that it was full of Money 
and that they wou d not fail to enquire about it of the Waterman, who 
had been intrusted with it. But, says he, if the Packets, that are stni 
hither by water, are not registred at the Hague, / don t see how they 
can be informed about it, and indeed it is better they shou d know 
nothing of it } &c. He ends his Letter with those words, and it does 
clearly appear by that Letter, to whom we are beholden for so 
abominable a Production. 

Several Learned Men have already sufficiently discovered the 


impious Doctrines contained in those Posthumous Works, and have 
given notice to every Body to beware of em. I shall only add 
some few things to what has been said by them. The Treatise of 
Morals begins with some Difinitions l or Descriptions of the Deity. 
Who would not think at first, considering so fine a beginning, that he 
is reading a Christian Philosopher ? All those Difinitions are fine, 
especially the sixth, wherein Spinosa says, that God is an infinite 
Being ; that is, a Siibstance, which contains in it self an infinity of 
Attributes, every one whereof represents a?id expresses an Eternal and 
infinite Substance. But when we enquire more narrowly into his 
Opinions, we find that the God of Spinosa is a meer Phantom, an 
imaginary God, who is nothing less than God. And therefore the 
words of the Apostle, Tit. i. 16, concerning impious Men, may be 
very well applied to that Philosopher : They profess that they know 
God, but in Works they deny him. What David says of ungodly Men 
Psalm 14. i. does likewise suit him : The Fool has said in his Heart, 
there is 710 God. This is the true Opinion of Spinosa, whatever he 
might say. He takes the liberty to use the word God, and to take it in 
a sense unknown to all Christians. This he confesses himself in his 
2ist Letter to Mr. Oldenburg: I acknowledge, says he, that I have a 
notion of God and Nature, very different from that of the Modern 
Christians. I believe that God is the Immanent, and not the Transient 
Cause of all things: Deum rerum omnium Causam immanentem, non 
vero transeumtem statuo. And to confirm his Opinion, he alledges 
these Words of St Paul; In him we live, and move, and have our 
Being. Act. 17. 28. 

In order to understand him, we must consider that a Transient Cause 
is, that 2 the Productions whereof are external, or out of it self; as a 
Man, who throws a Stone into the Air, or a Carpenter, who builds a 
House : Whereas the Immanent Cause acts inwardly, and is confined 
within itself, without acting outwardly. Thus when a Man s Soul 
thinks of, or desires something, it is or remains in that thought or 
desire, without going out of it, and is the immanent Cause thereof. 
In the same manner, the God of Spinosa is the Cause of the Universe 
wherein he is, and he is not beyond it. But because the Universe 
has some bounds, it wou d follow that God is a limited and finite 
Being. And tho he says that God is infinite, and comprehends an 
infinity of Perfections ; he must needs play with the words Eternal 

1 Sic. 

2 According to modern practice the sense would require the comma to be after 


and Infinite, seeing he cannot understand by them a Being, which 
did subsist before Time was, and before any other Being was created 
but he calls that infinite, wherein the Humane Understanding can 
neither find an End, nor any Bounds : For he thinks the Productions 
of God are so numerous, that Man, with all the strength of his Mind, 
cannot conceive any Bounds in them. Besides, they are so solid, 
and so well settled and connected one with another, that they shall 
last for ever. 

Nevertheless, he says, in his 2ist Letter, that they were in the 
wrong, who charged him with asserting that God and Matter, wherein 
God Acts, are but one and the same thing. But after all, he can t 
forbear confessing, that Matter is a thing essential to the Deity, who 
is and works only in Matter, that is, in the Universe. The God of 
Spinosa is therefore nothing else but Nature, infinite, but yet 
corporeal and material, taken in general, and with all its Modifica 
tions. For he supposes that there are two Eternal Properties in 
God, cogitatio 6 extensio, Thinking and Extension : By the first of 
those Properties, God is contain d in the Universe ; by the second, 
he is the Universe itself, and both joyn d together make up what he 
calls God. 

As far as I am able to understand Spinosa, the dispute between 
us Christians and him runs upon this, viz. Whether the true God be 
an Eternal Substance, different and distinct from the Universe, and 
from the whole Nature, and whether by a free Act of his Will he 
produc d the World, and all Creatures out of nothing ; or whether the 
Universe, and all the Beings it comprehends, do essensually l belong 
to the Nature of God, being considered as a Substance, whose 
Thought and Extension are infinite ? Spinosa maintains the last 
proposition. The Antispinosa of Z. 2 Vittichius^ pag. 18. and seq. 
may be consulted. Thus he owns indeed, that God is the general 
Cause of all things ; but he pretends, that God produces em 
necessarily without freedom and choice, and without consulting his 
Will. In like manner, everything that happens in the World, Good 
or Evil, Virtue or Vice, Sin or good Works, does necessarily proceed 
from him ; and consequently there ought to be no Judgment, no 
Punishment, no Resurrection, no Salvation, no Damnation. For 
if it were so, that imaginary God wou d Punish and Reward his own 

1 Sic. 

2 Sic t an error for Ch, (Christopher), as rightly given in the original and the 
French. (Bibliogr. 384, often confounded With James Wittichius, cf, 254, ti). 


Work, as a Child does his Baby. 1 Is it not the most pernicious 
Atheism that ever was seen in the World? And therefore Mr. 
Burmanus? a Reformed Minister, at Enkhuysen calls Spinosa, with 
great Reason, the most impious Atheist, that ever liv d upon the Face 
of the Earth. 

I don ; t design to examine here all the impious and absurd 
Doctrines of Spinosa ; I have mention d some of the most important 
only to inspire the Christian Reader with the aversion and horror he 
ought to have for such pernicious Opinions. But I must not forget 
to say, that it does plainly appear by the second part of his Ethicks, 
that he makes the Soul and Body but one Being, the Properties 
whereof are, as he expresses it, Thinking and Extension ; for he ex 
plains himself in that Manner, pag. 40. " When I speak of the Body, 
" I mean only a Mode, which expresses the Essence of God in a 
"certain and precise manner, as he is considered under the notion of 
" an extended thing. Per corpus intelligo modum qui Dei essentiam, 
quattnus ut res extensa consideratur, certo 6 determinate modo ex- 
primit. As for the Soul, which is, and acts in the Body, it is only 
another Modification or manner of being, produced by Nature, or 
manifested by Thought : It is not a Spirit, or a particular Substance 
no more than the Body, but a Modification, which expresses the 
Essence of God, as he manifests himself, Acts and Works by 
Thought. Did ever any Body hear any such abominations among 
Christians ! At that rate God cou d neither Punish the Soul nor the 
Body, unless he would Punish and Destroy himself. Towards the 
latter part of his 2ist Letter, he overthrows the great Mystery of 
Godliness, as we find it expressed i, Tim. 3. 16. by maintaining that 
the Incarnation of the Son of God is nothing else but the Eternal 
Wisdom, which having appeared in all things, particularly in our 
Hearts and Souls, was at last manifested in an extraordinary manner 
in Jesus Christ : he says a little lower, that some Churches indeed 
add to it, that God made himself a Man ; but says he, / have, declared 
in express terms, tJiat I dorft know what they mean by it. Quod 
qucudam Ecclesicc hisaddant, quod Dcus naturam humanam assumpseiit, 
monui expresse me quid dicant nesdre, &c. He goes on, and says, That 
Doctrine seems to me to be as strange, as if any one shou d teach that 
a Circle has taken the nature of a Triangle or of a Square. Which 
gives him occasion towards the latter part of his 23rd Letter, to ex 
plain the famous passage of St John The Word was made Flesh 
Chap. i. 14. by a way of speaking very common amongst the Eastern 
1 i.e. doll. - Bibliogr. 492. 


Nations, and to render it thus, God has manifested himself in Jesus 
Christ, in a most particular manner. 

I have shewn plainly, and in a few words, in my Sermon, how in 
his 23rd and 24th Letters, he endeavours to destroy the Mystery of the 
Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is a Capital Doctrine amongst 
us, and the ground of our Hopes and Comfort. I need not spend 
more time in setting down the other impious Doctrines, which he 

Some Writings of Spinosa, which have not been Printed. 

HE, who took care to publish the Posthumous Works of Spinosa, 
reckons amongst the Writings of that Author, which have not been 
Printed, a Treatise concerning the Rain-Bow. I know some Men of 
great note in this Town, (at the Hague] who have seen and read that 
Treatise ; but they did not advise Spinosa to publish it : Which 
perhaps gave him some trouble, and made him resolve to bum it 
half a year before he died, as I have been informed by the people of 
the House, where he lived. l He had also begun a Translation of 
the Old Testament into Dutch, about which, he often discoursed 
with some Men learned in the Languages, and enquired into the Ex 
plications which the Christians give to several Passages. He had 
finished the five Books of Moses, a great while ago, when some few 
days before he died he burnt the whole Work in his Chamber. 

Several Authors confute his Works. 

His works were scarce published, but God raised to his Glory, and 
for the defence of the Christian Religion, several Champions who 
confuted them with all the Success they cou d hope for. Dr. Theoph. 
Spitzelius names two of em in his Book entituled Infelix Litcrator, 
viz. Francis Kuyper of Rotterdam, whose Book printed in the same 
Town, in the year 1676, is entituled Arcana Atheismi revelata, &c. 
The profound Misteries of Atheism discovered. 2 The second is, Regnier 
de Mansveld Professor, at Utrecht, who in the year 1674 Printed in 
the same place a Book upon the same Subject. 3 

The next year 1675, a Confutation of the same Treatise of 

Spinosa, entituled, Enervatio Tract at us Theologico-Politici^ came out 

of the Press of Isaac Nceranus : It was written by John Bredenburg, 

whose Father had been Elder of the Lutheran Church at Rotterdam. 

1 See p. 21 above. 2 Bibliogr. 365. 3 Bibliogr. 363. * Bibliogr. 208, 

F F 


George Mathias Konig was pleased in his Bibliotheque of ancient 
and modern Authors, pag. 770, to call him a certain Weaver of 
Rotterdam, Textorem quendam Rotterodamensem. If he exercised such 
a Mechanical Art, I am sure that no Man of his Profession did ever 
shew so much ability, or produced such a Work ; for he does Geo 
metrically demonstrate in that Book, and in a clear and unanswerable 
manner, that Nature neither is, nor can be God himself, as Spinosa 
pretends. Being not very well skill d in the Latin Tongue, he was 
obliged to write his Book in Dutch, and to make use of another Man s 
hand to Translate it into Latin. Which he did, as he himself says in 
the Preface to his Book, to the end, that Spinosa, who was still alive, 
might have no excuse or pretence, in case he made no reply to it. 

Nevertheless, I don t find that all the Arguments of that Learned 
Man are convincing. Besides, he seems to incline to Sodnianism in 
some parts of his Book. This is at least the judgment I make of it, 
and I believe it does not differ in that respect from the judgment of 
knowing Men, to whom I leave the decision of it. However, it is 
certain, that Francis Kuyper and Bredenburg published several Writ 
ings one against another, and that Kuyptr in his accusations against 
his Adversary, pretended to no less than to convince him of Atheism. 

In the year 1676, Lambert VeldJmis of Utrecht, published a Book, 
entituled, Tractatus Moralis de Naturali pndore, 6- dignitate hominis. 1 
He overthrows, in that Treatise, the Principles whereby Spinosa pre 
tends to prove, that all the Good or Evil, which Men do, is produc d by 
a Superior and necessary operation of God or Nature. I have already 
mention d William Van Bleyenburg, a Merchant of Dordrecht, who 
enter d into the List in the year 1674,2 and refuted the impious Book 
of Spinosa, entitul d, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. I cannot forbear 
comparing him with the Merchant, whom our Saviour speaks of, 
Mat. XIII. 45, 46. Seeing he does not present us with worldly and 
perishable Riches, by the publishing of his Book, but with a Treasure 
of an infinite value, and which shall never perish. It were to be 
wish d, that there were many such Merchants upon the Exchanges of 
Amsterdam and Rotterdam. 

Our Divines of the Confession of Augsburg have also distinguish 
themselves amongst those, who have refuted the impious Doctrine of 
Spinosa. His Tractatus Theologico-Politicus was scarce come out, but 
they took Pen in hand and wrote against him. We may name first 
Dr Mtisceus, Professor of Divinity, aifena, a Man of a great Genius, 
and who perhaps had not his like in his time. During the Life of 
1 Bibliogr. 358, . 2 Bibliogr. 364. 


Spinosa, viz. in the year 1704, he publish d a Dissertation of twelve 
Sheets, entitul d, Tractates Theologico-Politicus ad Veritatis Lumen 
examinatus. 1 "The Theological and Political Treatise examin d 
" by the Light of Reason and Truth. He declares, pag. 2, 3. his 
aversion and horror for such an impious Production, and expresses 
it in these words, Jure merito quis dubitet, num ex illis, quos ipse 
Dcemon adhumana divinaquejura peivertenda magno numero conduxit, 
repertesfuerit, quiin Us depravandis operosior fuerit quam hie Impost or > 
magno Ecclesicz malo & Reipublicce detrimento natus. " One may very 
" well doubt, whether, amongst the many Men, whom the Devil has 
" hir d to overthrow all Humane and Divine right, any of em has been 
" more busy about it, than that Impostor, who was born to the great 
" Mischief of Church and State. He sets down (pag. 5, 6, 7.) with 
great clearness the Philosophical Expressions of Spinosa, he explains 
those which are capable of a double sense, and shews in what sense 
Spinosa made use of 7 em, that one may the better understand him. 
He shews (pag. 16. .32.) that when Spinosa published that Book, he 
designed to teach that every Man has the right and liberty of fixing 
his Belief in point of Religion, and of confining it only to such things 
as are not above his reach, and which he can comprehend. He had 
already (pag. 14. . 28.) very clearly stated the Question, and shewn 
wherein Spinosa differs from the Christians : And in the same manner 
he continues to examine that Treatise of Spinosa, and confutes every 
part of it with good and solid Reasons. There is no doubt but 
Spinosa himself read that Book of Dr. Musaus, seeing it was found 
amongst his Papers after his death. 

Tho several Authors writ against the Theological and 
Political Treatise, as I have already observed ;